Whitney: Can I Be Me?

DIR: Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal • WRI: Nick Broomfield • PRO: Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin • DOP: Sam Mitchell • ED: Marc Hoeferlin  • MUS: Nick Laird-Clowes • CAST: Whitney Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Bobby Brown


Whitney: Can I Be Me? is an appropriately tragic yet surprisingly eye-opening documentary on the rise and fall of singer and actress Whitney Houston. Directed by Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Tales of the Grim Sleeper) and Rudi Dolezel, the film uses never-before-seen archival footage from the musician’s tours – along with interviews of those close to her – as a means of dissecting the reasons (childhood, race, relationships, fame) that led to her premature death.

Although the documentary’s rise-and-fall narrative has been seen before – particularly in relation to Asif Kapadia’s recent Amy (about the similarly troubled musician Amy Winehouse) – there is much supremely fascinating about Whitney: Can I Be Me?. Taking its title from a repeated mantra said by Houston, the film posits the singer as being someone unable to truly be herself in almost any aspect of her life. People, including members of her family (her father did sue her), saw her less as a person with personality and desires than as a cash cow. Her producers had her ignore her black soul music roots in order to appeal to a wider demographic. A reported lesbian relationship between Houston and her close assistant, Robyn Crawford, was stymied due to homophobia in the music business and the tabloids. Even after her bodyguard (a warmly offbeat and kind David Roberts) wrote to her family and producers regarding her alcohol and drug addictions, no one intervened because the singer was the one keeping them in business.

With this knowledge in mind, clips of interviews with Houston at the height of her fame – shown throughout the documentary – definitely give the impression of someone anxious to appease various parties. The way she answers or even skilfully dodges questions regarding critiques of her music or who she was romantically involved with highlights how hard the singer was trying to appeal to her family, her record label, her fans – both black or otherwise.

It’s a shame that Houston felt forced to put on airs because in the archival tape (taken from home video or footage shot on her 1999 world tour) where she is seen acting naturally with friends and family, she comes across as a warm friendly person. A moment in which she and husband Bobby Brown – during the early, happy years of their marriage – perform skits together from their favourite movies is both charming to watch, but also unsettling with the foresight of what was looming on the horizon.

Whitney: Can I Be Me? doesn’t transcend the typical tragic musician documentary. However, it is certainly emotional and complex. Considering Houston’s fame, I assume many know what an immense talent the singer was. Yet, they may be unaware of how complicated and multi-faceted she was too.

Stephen Porzio

101 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Whitney: Can I Be Me?  is released 16th June 2017

Whitney: Can I Be Me? – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Inversion

DIR/WRI/PRO/DOP: Behnam Behzadi • CAST: Alireza Aghakhani, Sahar Dolatshahi, Roya Javidnia, Ali Mosaffa, Setareh Pesyani, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh

Critic Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote that throughout the best of Iranian cinema runs an “invisible tension”, a “clandestine suspense in the everyday”. Such is the case with Behnam Behzadi’s latest Inversion. Sahar Dolatshahi (Fireworks Wednesday) stars as Niloofar, a single thirty-something, business woman living in Tehran. In the early scenes, she seems happy and appears to possess a surprising amount of agency for a female living in Iran. Yet, throughout these opening moments, a portentous foreboding begins to creep in. We hear radio reports of pollution in the city being so toxic that schools in certain areas must close due to safety regulations.

While rekindling with an old flame, our protagonist receives news from her brother Farhad (Ali Mosaffa, The Past) that their mother has suffered respiratory failure – a result of the contaminated air – and must leave Tehran. Suddenly, Niloofar realises the control she thought she had over her life was only an illusion. Due to her single, unmarried status, the decision that she will sell her business and move outside of the Iranian capital to care for her mother is made, not by her, but by her siblings. Her relatives have their own families and therefore feel no obligation to care for her their ailing matriarch, placing the burden entirely on Niloofar.

At 84 minutes in length, Inversion is a tight and tense movie. Yet, the tension doesn’t derive from plot twists or moments of action. Instead, it comes from a series of stiflingly awkward and upsetting domestic squabbles, ones which make the main character completely revaluate her position in life and society. One shocking moment sees Niloofar being casually shushed by Farhad while explaining that she is “a fully capable adult woman” that should be consulted in issues pertaining to her. Despite all she has achieved in life – running a successful clothes shop – she is still somehow a second-class citizen. Every aspect of her life can be run by her brother – a man who is an unsuccessful business owner, owing a huge amount to debtors. As Niloofar states to Farhad: “No husband, no children, so I don’t count. You move me like a pawn”.

In a similar way to French drama Grand Central (which used nuclear radiation as an allegory for falling in love) – the symbolism of Inversion, using the dirty smog filled air as a metaphor for the repressive condition of women in Iran is heavy-handed but also interesting and intelligent. Both the toxicity and oppression are always present and visible, yet people ignore it – learning to endure.

Inversion feels like a neo-realist movie. The settings appear tangible and authentic. The actors disappear into their characters. There is no soundtrack, just the noise of radios and ringtones. Thus, for all its grimness – it’s a little surprising how positive the ending of the movie actually is, particularly after the setting the viewer up for a much more downbeat finale. However, even if the last moments are a little jarring, the positivity of the conclusion – particularly what it means for Niloofar – is unexpected in how uplifting it is.

Stephen Porzio

84 minutes

Inversion is released 19th May 2017

Inversion  – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Bunch of Kunst

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DIR/WRI/PRO: Christine Franz • DOP: Daniel Waldhecker • ED: Oliver Werner • CAST: Andrew Fearn, Sleaford Mods, Steve Underwood

Bunch of Kunst is a rockumentary about English music duo Sleaford Mods. Known for their minimalist post-punk stylings and angry rant-filled lyrics about the state of Britain, the band have a devote following – mostly consisting of working to lower class people who relate to their critiques of working life, capitalism and unemployment. As a fan says in the film, the harsh profanity-laced music is “cathartic”, a means of expunging anger. The documentary, directed by friend of the band Christine Franz, follows singer Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn as they grow in status – achieving chart success with 2015 album Key Markets and landing a headlining spot at Glastonbury.

Watching the film in a cinema is a strange experience. Sleaford Mods are undoubtedly an interesting band to rest a documentary on – they are outsiders in the music industry, they’re outspoken and controversial, their music is raw. Bunch of Kunst excels when the band or their fans quite eloquently discuss these qualities. Williamson describes how Sleaford Mods fill a niche for people who feel alienated from the mainstream songs about “love” on the radio. This is something audiences seem to agree with as one fan at a gig equates seeing the duo live to seeing the Sex Pistols. Another remarks that the band write about everyday things like hating one’s manager at work, something they can relate to.

Yet, despite centring upon two interesting people (as well as lead singer Jason’s wife who delivers some witty lines about her spouse), Bunch of Kunst isn’t as fascinating to watch formally as its subject matter. For one thing, aside from some brief concert footage, it’s not cinematic. Franz crafts the movie mostly from interviews and footage she captured following the band on tour – the norm for roc-docs. But she never really takes advantage of the medium of cinema. For example, I reviewed Gimme Danger not long ago, Jim Jarmusch’s tribute to The Stooges (one which shares passing relevance to Bunch of Kunst as both feature Iggy Pop). While I found that film “standard”, it did feature neat animated sequences, while also incorporating footage from old Hollywood movies into its narrative in a clever way. Bunch of Kunst has no experimentation of this kind, thus leaving it feeling like an overlong TV documentary.

Also, early on, Williamson asks the person filming him to turn off their camera as they approach the street where he lives. It’s definitely a reasonable quest – his wife worried about over-enthusiastic fans. Yet, it shines a light on another problem with the movie. For a band as edgy as Sleaford Mods – one which takes pot-shots at various other contemporaries and has been described as “the angriest band in Britain” – the documentary is slightly too well-behaved, particularly given its title. While Williamson’s father appears and calls his son lovingly “a wanker” and his wife says that in the days after returning from tour, he can suffer from “cunt-flu”, both the singer and writer Fearn seem like relaxed, placid people. This is interesting as it provides a stark contrast from the band’s onstage persona, but the viewer is left with the feeling that Franz didn’t dig deep enough into her subject to find what really makes them tick. Ultimately, Bunch of Kunst is passingly entertaining, but all of that is down to the subject. The filmmaking adds little.

Stephen Porzio

99 minutes

Bunch of Kunst is released 21st May 2017

Bunch of Kunst – Official Website

 

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Review: Suntan

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DIR: Argyris Papadimitropoulos • WRI: Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Syllas Tzoumerkas PRO: Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Phaedra Vokali • DOP: Christos Karamanis • ED: Napoleon Stratogiannakis • MUS: Yannis Veslemes • CAST: Makis Papadimitriou, Elli Tringou, Dimi Hart

Suntan is the latest entry in the burgeoning Greek new wave of cinema, following acclaimed works like Alps, Dogtooth and Attenberg. It stars Makis Papadimitriou (a highlight of last year’s Chevalier) as a single and lonely 42-year-old doctor named Kostis. Although the audience never quite learn the specifics, life appears to have been unkind to him. Accepting a job as the village doctor on a small Greek island, his days consist solely of treating locals and frozen dinners. That is until the Summer, when the island becomes a hedonistic holiday resort for young partiers. He forms a bond with Anna (Elli Tringou) – a free spirited, nudist beach-attending twenty-one-year old patient on vacation. Inviting the doctor out of his comfort zone, Anna allows him to tag along with her friends (all of whom look like extras from Spring Breakers) and their heavy partying. Kostis experiences emotional highs but devastating, disturbing lows in the backdrop of this intoxicating heightened environment.

Suntan, co-written and directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos (Wasted Youth), plays very well with audience expectation. It tricks the viewer subtly into thinking they are watching a different movie than they are. For about two-thirds of its narrative, the audience is led not quite to root for Kostis, but to empathise with him. Though, in this stretch its deliberately creepy to watch this overweight, older man frolic on nude beaches with people half his age (something reinforced by an explicit reference to Lolita), one empathises with Kostis. It’s like watching a sad character study about a man trying to catch a second wind in his life by returning to his youth (a theme present recently in Trainspotting 2). The viewer gets the impression that Kostis will grow as a person, realising that a life of parties although alluring is past him – thus, accepting his inevitable aging and being happier for it.

What an invigorating and disturbing surprise it proves to be when Papadimitropoulous drops the other shoe and one realises they’ve actually been watching a secret horror film – one grounded in the same themes of aging mentioned above, as well as one of misogyny. An abrupt but well-executed shift in mood (little details like how the partying sequences in the earlier half look idyllic, while in the latter they look queasy prevent tonal whiplash) pushes the movie into darker territory. Without spoiling, Kostis begins to commit acts which are increasingly sinister, culminating in a quite upsetting sequence – partly because it centres on a disturbing act but also because the audience have been sympathising up until this point with the perpetrator.

I can see the film receiving negative criticism, partly because rapid tonal shifts are divisive but also because the young characters in Suntan, particularly its women, are often objectified. Yet, gradually the viewer realises that they are seeing the movie from Kostis’ perspective. Thus, the younger players only appear as vapid, sexually open hipsters because that’s how our lead perceives them. Plus, Elli Tringou’s performance helps counter these criticisms, imbuing her character with a personality, despite working in this limited parameter.

Suntan is further proof that people should sit-up and take notice of the Greek “weird-wave”, a movement brimming with fresh ideas, tackling dark, social issues.

Stephen Porzio

104minutes

Suntan is released 28th April 2017

Suntan  – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Rules Don’t Apply

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DIR/WRI: Warren Beatty • PRO: Warren Beatty, Steve Bing, Ron Burkle, Molly Conners, Frank Giustra, Sarah E. Johnson, William D. Johnson, Jonathan McCoy, Arnon Milchan, Steven Mnuchin, Sybil Robson Orr, James Packer, Brett Ratner, Terry Semel, Jeffrey Soros’ Christopher Woodrow • DOP: Caleb Deschanel • ED: Robin Gonsalves, Leslie Jones, Brian Scofield, Billy Weber • DES: Jeannine Oppewall •  CAST: Lily Collins, Haley Bennett, Taissa Farmiga

Rules Don’t Apply is an odd beast of a movie filled with great moments and fine ideas, but ultimately fails to come together as a whole, biting off more than it can chew. Set from 1958 to 1964, this fictional story based around true characters and events revolves around the relationship that develops between an aspiring actress, Marla (Lily Collins) and her driver / future finance expert, Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) – both in the employ of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes (writer, director Warren Beatty). The young hopefuls’ blossoming love is challenged by personal issues, sexual mores of the time and the spectre their employer casts over their life.

In its opening passages the movie is delightful. The Hollywood of the era looks authentic – as beautiful as it is artificial. The pace is lively and upbeat, with Beatty cutting fast between scenes – delivering constant sharp dialogue. It helps that the cast is phenomenal with Collins and Ehrenreich’s charming performances deliberately evoking Old Hollywood. However, its Annette Benning as Marla’s outspoken religious mother who shines brightest in the early scenes – as her character gets increasingly wound up by Hughes’ simultaneously distant but invasive treatment of his hired actresses such as refusing to speak to them directly but having his employees spy on them and report back any unusual activity.

This first part of the film, as well as playing a tribute to old Hollywood in the vein of Café Society or Hail, Caesar!, touches on interesting themes. There is the clash between devout middle American values – no sex before marriage, the importance of church – with the hedonistic lifestyle of L.A. – where sex is a key part of what drives the film industry. Also, Beatty seems to be exploring how a figure as strange, larger than life and impulsive as Hughes affects everyone in his orbit. It’s a full half hour before Beatty in the role appears yet he’s mentioned constantly.

However, the more Beatty’s Hughes becomes prominent, the more the movie begins to falter. It’s not that the actor is poor in the role –  in fact his eccentric behaviour and line delivery evokes warm memories of his performance in Bulworth – it’s just that film descends into a hodge-podge. There’s some strange editing choices. A huge portion of the movie rests on Hughes’ issues with his late father something which would be interesting if we ever got a glimpse into the relationship they shared. As we don’t, these scenes don’t evoke the emotion they should. Also, characters appear for one scene to share heartfelt moments with Hughes, yet because we haven’t seen them before and won’t see them again, the audience engagement just isn’t there.

Also, there is the leery element of the older Beatty writing, directing and starring in movies where he beds young glamorous women. Although, one could write off his characters’ relationships with Halle Berry in Bulworth and Lily Collins in Rules Don’t Apply as being rooted in reality, e.g. politicians often have younger mistresses and Hughes was a notorious playboy, it feels wrong here. The aviator/film-producer depicted here by Beatty (who is twenty-years older than the character he’s playing) is a past his prime, germaphobe whose eccentric behaviour leads many to want to have him committed. Meanwhile, up until this point Marla has been seen as a strong, intelligent and religiously devout woman who shares strong feelings for Frank. Thus, the scene, despite very fine work by Collins, doesn’t work narratively.

There are other issues – characters like Benning’s, Alec Baldwin’s or Ed Harris’ get dropped suddenly from the story leaving many loose ends. The plot devices linking Hughes into Marla and Frank’s lives are clunky. Despite these problems, part of me sort of wants to applaud Beatty (who has starred in and directed stellar movies in the past) for his ambition. Like the title of the movie, rules don’t apply to him. He’s earned the status where he can produce odd, quirky works such as this, that tackle big issues – admittedly with varying degrees of success. Rules Don’t Apply doesn’t hang together but for fans of Beatty there are glimmers of his now trademark stylish direction and witty dialogue. However, for a more focused depiction of Old Hollywood, seek out the Coen’s Hail, Caesar! also starring Alden Ehrenreich.

Stephen Porzio

126 minutes
12A See IFCO for details

Rules Don’t Apply is released 21st April 2017

Rules Don’t Apply– Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Handmaiden

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DIR: Chan-wook Park • WRI: Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park • PRO: Syd Lim, Chan-wook Park • DOP: Chung-hoon Chung • ED: Jae-Bum Kim, Sang-beom Kim • DES: Kathy Strachan • MUS: Yeong-wook Jo • CAST: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo 

At one point in Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden, a character delivers the line “a story is all about the journey”. It’s a telling piece of dialogue as the joy of the Korean auteur’s latest is less the tale of betrayal in Japanese high society circa 1930 than the way it is presented. The opening scene sets up the film as something akin to an Asian Gosford Park or Downton Abbey. In Japan-occupied Korea, poor young village woman, Tamako (a fabulous Kim Tae-Ri), is chosen to be the handmaiden for wealthy coloniser and heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-Hee), a solitary figure ruled over by her sleazy, authoritarian uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-Woong).

However, within ten minutes, Chan-Wook (best known to Westerners for directing Oldboy) pulls the first of many rugs out from under the viewer. Tamako, whose real name is Sook-Hee, is actually the daughter of a legendary thief and is pulling a con. Hired by a crook posing as a Count (Ha Jung-Woo), it’s her job to convince Lady Hideko into marrying her fellow con-artist. The plan is to throw the heiress into a mental institution post-wedding – with Sook-Hee and her accomplice splitting the bride’s riches.

What’s great fun about The Handmaiden, which is based upon a novel by Sarah Waters entitled Fingersmith, is how ill-disciplined it is despite being set in an environment known for being clinical and cold. Set in high society, based on story written by a British author and featuring a character obsessed with British culture – Chan-Wook’s film deliberately evokes a type of English cinema and literature defined by strict social mores and repressed sexuality. Thus, it gives The Handmaiden a subversive thrill when, with every twist, it becomes more insane and unruly with lesbian love affairs, a perverted book-club and an escape from a mental institution all being introduced into its plot. Plus, its feminist slant and positive view of sex are laudable in comparison to the works being drawn upon.

That said, the film certainly retains the lavish beauty of a glossy period drama. As with Chan-Wook’s previous feature Stoker, there are some unforgettable visuals present in The Handmaiden. The mansion in which the majority of the action takes place, so large that it takes ages to reach the house after entering its gates by car, is a wonderful creation. Suffering from blackouts, a scene where the viewer sees the exterior of the home pulsating on and off with light is particularly beautiful.

Although the film runs slightly too long after it shows its final twist, the script by Chan-Wook and frequent writing partner Seo-Kyeong Jeong (Thirst, Lady Vengeance) is notably tight – marked by a distinct lack of extraneous information. Everything mentioned in the drama, even down to the most minute details, pays off in some way as it continues.

At this stage in his career, it appears Chan-Wook can do no wrong. Nobody is making movies like the auteur – ones which are simultaneously stylish, erotic, inventive, disturbing, funny and violent. If one wasn’t swayed by Oldboy or his underrated English-language debut Stoker, The Handmaiden may be the one to convince audiences of this remarkable talent.

Stephen Porzio

144 minutes
18 See IFCO for details

The Handmaiden is released 14th April 2017

The Handmaiden – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Aquarius

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DIR/WRI: Kleber Mendonça Filho • PRO: Saïd Ben Saïd, Emilie Lesclaux, Michel Merkt • DOP: Pedro Sotero, Fabricio Tadeu • ED: Eduardo Serrano • DES: Juliano Dornelles, Thales Junqueira • CAST: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos

Partly a drama about stoic individualism in a battle against a faceless corporation but also a multi-layered character study – Brazilian drama Aquarius stars Sonia Braga as Clara, a sixty-something retired music critic. She lives in the titular luxurious apartment bloc which has been home to her family for decades, having previous housed her aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez). A construction company, who want to acquire the property, begin strong-arming the protagonist into surrendering her home to them – having successfully driven out every other tenant. However, having survived cancer and the grief of losing her husband, Clara fights back with a fortitude – even when the corporation’s efforts turn increasingly sinister.

While this plot may bring to mind movies like Erin Brockovich or The Insider in the fight between one person vs The Man, Aquarius is far different. Writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighbouring Sounds) actually puts the fight between Clara and the corrupt company on the back-burner for a huge portion of its running time. Instead, the drama transcends from something viewers have seen before into a poetic portrait about the process of aging and the feeling of becoming increasingly outdated in an ever-changing (often for the worse) world. In the years that pass from the opening scene – where we see Clara as a younger woman (Barbara Colen) – to the present, our protagonist has become a relic from another time – one where individuality, culture and non-comformity were traits which were praised.

Early on we see Clara being interviewed in her home – filled to the brim with pop-art (an awesomely large Barry Lyndon poster takes up almost a full wall) – by two young journalists about the difference between physical media and digital. Our hero replies that she likes MP3s but that they lack the human touch of vinyl – recounting a story from thirty years prior about buying a John Lennon LP. Yet, the tale is lost on the young reporters and she is quoted in bold print stating “I like MP3s”. This difficulty in staying separated from the status quo as opposed to being swallowed up by it continues throughout. Old friends and relatives refer to her as “stubborn” in her efforts against the malevolent corporation, as opposed to seeing her very sensible side of the argument. Money means nothing to her. She wants to stay in the home where she lived with the love of her life and her deceased family, a place with which she has attached emotional significance – as opposed to seeing it turned into a plaything for a business (a universal problem as evident by Ireland’s own The Point becoming the horrendously corporate sounding the O2 and then the 3 Arena).

Sonia Braga is utterly mesmerizing as Clara, mustering up enough confidence in the way she moves to convey why the characters in the movie refer to her as “Dona Clara”. Yet, she also possesses a quiet fragility. A moment where she is rejected by a male lover due to her mastectomy scars is a masterclass in internalising by Braga. Yet, even with these moments of melancholy, it’s Braga’s fire one takes away from the movie, a powerful mite which makes her adversaries look tiny in comparison.

Aquarius also deserves unanimous acclaim for its depiction of an aging woman who has sexual desires which she fulfils. A potentially dodgy scene where Clara hires a male prostitute during a moment of loneliness is quite fascinating as the elderly female takes control of the situation. She is the one guiding the young male on what to do and it is she who asks him to leave after her sexual appetite is quenched.

If Aquarius has a problem, it’s perhaps that it’s too massive in scope. It touches on a wide range of issues – corruption and nepotism in Brazilian business and politics, the special meaning humans attach to places, old vs new, the clash of the individual against the status quo, how overcoming pain can make one stronger – themes which are only tangentially related. Although, I really like each scene – I could watch a TV show of Braga teaching her nephew how to court his girlfriend – at 145 minutes, the movie at times drags, particularly as scenes such as that with the gigolo don’t really merge with what follows.

That said, if one’s complaint about a movie is that it’s too much of a good thing – it could also be taken as a great compliment. Aquarius allows the viewer to spend nearly two and a half hours with an intriguing, interesting and complex character – made even more fascinating by Braga’s stellar work. Plus, as one leaves the cinema following the final scene of Dona Clara retaliating against her corporate enemies, you will be beaming.

Stephen Porzio

146 minutes

18 See IFCO for details

Aquarius is released 23rd March 2017

For our Brazilian readers who enjoy cinema and quality TV shows check out this article in your native Portuguese about TV shows to avoid when learning English.

Aquarius – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Moonlight

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DIR/WRI: Barry Jenkins • PRO: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski • DOP: James Laxton • ED: Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders • DES: Hannah Beachler • MUS: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson 

 

Believe the hype about Moonlight. The drama, which has been sweeping award ceremonies and been gathering critical acclaim since its premiere in TIFF last year, is finally out in Ireland and it’s incredible. Broken into three sections, the film chronicles the life of black gay American, Chiron (played during the adult section by Trevante Rhodes) and the lives of those close to him. There is his drug addict single mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), his surrogate family found in drug-dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his kind moll, Teresa (Janelle Monae), as well as his first love, Kevin (played in adult form by Andre Holland).

What is amazing about Moonlight is that it takes a tale of a life, that on paper many shouldn’t be able to relate to, and uses it to explore universal themes – thus, making it relatable. For instance, a major part of the movie is the questioning of what it means to be one’s own person. As a boy, Chiron is weak and bullied. Yet, Juan and Kevin show him compassion, giving him advice on how to deal with such problems. As the movie progresses, we see the quiet child from the opening passage develop into a blend of these two people – possessing Juan’s style and kindness, as well as his profession but also Kevin’s habit for provoking reactions from people. Writer-director Barry Jenkins (who based his script off Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue) seems to be suggesting that we subconsciously take traits and habits from those we love or admire, thus shaping our identity – something I feel most people can connect with.

However, besides raising big themes – as well as smaller, more complex issues such as that of gay masculinity and poverty (in regards to the latter who is worse – Paula for her addictions or Juan for profiting from them?) – Moonlight also succeeds equally well as an intimate character study. The combination between the wonderfully soulful performances, the gorgeous blue shades of James Laxton’s Wong-Kar-Wai inflected cinematography and Nicholas Britell’s swelling orchestral score builds to create an almost sensory emotional overload. There is a scene late in Moonlight in which Chiron and Kevin are re-connecting after years apart. Yet, dialogue is not what’s important to the scene. It’s everything around it – the emotive looks of the protagonists, the subtle score, the fact that the movie has been building to this moment. The passion is palpable and the viewer feels it in their chest as they watch, until the long scene unravels in such a beautiful, poetic way.

On paper, Moonlight could be dubbed the “gay black movie” – its praise in media a reactionary response to the times in which we live or the “Oscars so white” fiasco from last year. However, it’s so much more. Jenkins manages in 111 minutes to make the viewer connect and experience ache and elation with Chiron – a task many struggled to do with the protagonist of Richard Linklater’s semi-comparable Boyhood – a three-hour movie which took twelve years to film.

As the Oscar-season winds to a close and dreck like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter rears its ugly head, Moonlight is a reminder that cinema can be a profound human experience, a means of understanding experiences one may never face.

 

Stephen Porzio

111 minutes

15A See IFCO for details

Moonlight is released 17th March 2017
Moonlight – Official Website

 

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ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Nails

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Stephen Porzio takes a bloodied hammer to Denis Bartok’s Irish horror film Nails, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

The latest entry in Ireland’s recent renaissance of horror – Nails stars scream queen Shauna Macdonald (The Descent) as Dana, the victim of a hit and run which has left her paralysed from the waist down and unable to breathe and talk properly. While recuperating, her hospital room is plagued by a malevolent force. However, neither her husband (Steve Wall), her nurse (Ross Noble) or her psychiatrist (Robert O’Mahoney) believe her, with the latter citing PTSD as the cause for Dana’s alarm.

Nails, in many respects, is standard horror fare. Its structure is familiar – a haunted location, a new guest, a spectral attack, the expository ghost’s back-story and a special effects heavy climax. Yet, Nails marks itself out from the pack of similarly sounding movies in a number of ways. Most notably, the dramatic portions of the film are as, maybe even more, engaging than the horror sections. Director Dennis Bartok really succeeds in conveying the terror of Dana’s paralysis through certain editing choices. The opening credits – which stress the importance of feet and legs to the exercise obsessed pre-accident Dana – are an inspired choice.

Another example is the way he shoots the first scene in which we see the hero being bathed in hospital. The camera angles deliberately evoke that of a sexual assault. The cutting between the pained grimace on Dana’s face to Ross Noble’s Trevor performing the task is what makes this invasion of space all the more palpable for the viewer. We later learn the nurse is a good person just doing his job but in the moment the audience are in the head-space of the trapped protagonist, forced to let a stranger touch her. It’s unsurprising the original title for Nails was P.O.V. as the viewer experiences much of the drama from Dana’s limited point of view, creating an effective claustrophobic feeling.

Leading actress Shauna Macdonald joked at the post-screening Q&A that she accepted the role because she thought it would be an easy gig – being confined to a hospital bed for the majority of the running time. Nothing could be further from the truth. She gives a tour-de-force – nailing the strained speech and movement of somebody with her condition but also selling some of the quite fun third-act campy dialogue – where everything gets turned up to eleven in real tongue and cheek fashion.

Worth mentioning also is Ross Noble who is very solid in his strange but lovable character’s skin – someone who is medically trained as a nurse but also lives at Dana’s hospital working as a handyman – rolling cigarettes and watching Monster Trucks in his basement room.

Even when the movie unveils its ghost’s backstory and loses some of its intrigue – Macdonald’s sterling work, the fun characters and the interesting slant on a well-worn genre keep Nails interesting. Plus, its dark ending separates it further from the likes of the tweenie-aimed Annabelle or Ouija. Nails, instead, fits neatly with interesting horror like Wake Wood, Citadel, The Hallow – movies indicative of the burgeoning Irish horror movement.

 

Nails screened on Monday, 20th February  2017 at Cineworld as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Sanctuary

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Stephen Porzio checks out Len Collins’ debut feature, which screened at this year’ s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

There is a tendency within society to treat adults with intellectual disabilities as if they are children. It’s not the result of hate or disrespect. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – because they require special care and are innocent to many of the responsibilities of a “normal life”, society equates them to kids. However, it’s important to remember that people with special needs often crave the same things most ordinary adults do – intimacy, love and sex – experiences that are often out of reach for them.

Len Collins’ debut feature Sanctuary builds his drama around these needs. Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) are two disabled people in love. However, because of Irish law, they cannot consummate their relationship unless they are married. Craving intimacy and time alone, the two exploit the feckless nature of their care worker Tom (Robert Doherty), bribing him into renting the two lovers a hotel room for an afternoon tryst. The trio sneak away during their special needs group’s regular cinema outing. As Tom neglects the others in his care to accompany Larry and Sophie, the rest of the gang leave the theatre – embarking on their own adventures throughout Galway City.

Written and based on a play by Christian O’Reilly (who had a hand in the similarly disability themed Inside I’m Dancing), the film is undeniably audacious and brave in terms of its subject matter. Not only is it rather amazing to see a cast comprising mostly of intellectually disabled actors, but to witness them communicating their experience with such elegance and grace is an incredible feat. Selecting the same performers from the stage run of Sanctuary was a master stroke decision by O’Reilly and Collins. The performances feel so natural, suggesting the writer and director crafted a positive atmosphere – enabling their actors, who must have already spent a huge portion of time with their characters, to play their parts with an authenticity unparalleled with many films of a similar ilk.

The movie, rather admirably isn’t black and white about the issues it raises. Although, Sanctuary’s plot centres on people denied the basic right of any “normal” person – the right to express love physically, the narrative does wrestle with the complications of this premise. Tom points out that the law was created to actually protect those with an intellectual disability from being exploited, a consequence of the many sexual abuse cases in Ireland’s recent past. Also, a substantial portion of the drama rests on Tom’s inability to use a condom, having never been taught sex-education growing up, a necessity for teens in most secondary schools. Sanctuary, right up until its dark ending, refuses to be morally simple in its questioning of how society perceives and treats those who are different and require considerate care in Ireland.

The film is also quite timely in certain respects, highlighting how in recession-era Ireland, special need care programmes were the first victims of funding cuts. An early scene sees Tom’s group being told they are now unemployed, having previously been given small menial work. When a member asks if they are being punished for doing a poor job, Tom replies: “no one wants to pay you properly and if they do you’ll lose your benefits. Some bright civil servant got a pay raise for that one” –  a line painfully relevant to anyone with disabled family members entangled in government red-tape.

Yet, despite its bold and weighty themes, Sanctuary does have tonal problems. For instance, the scenes of Larry and Sophie in their hotel room are beautifully delicate, capturing deftly the happiness, the sadness and the nervousness of the characters’ relationship. It’s as if the two have wanted this time alone for so long, that they never believed it could happen. Now that it has, they are petrified of wasting it. These moments jar with the escapades of the other members of their cinema trip, which feel like they are from a much lesser, more accessible mainstream comedy.

Although these vignettes are intermittently funny, a lot of the “jokes” derive from the wacky actions of the protagonists, something which feels a little wrong given that people with special needs often can’t control the way they act. Plus, a comic scene where a character, in an effort to find Tom, karate chops the doors of toilet cubicles – leaving the people using them startled – just doesn’t flow with Sophie’s harrowing tale of the sexual abuse she suffered in the past just a few minutes later.

That said, these transgressions are forgivable because the movie’s comedy may enable Sanctuary to reach a larger demographic. Thus, enabling it to get a wider release in Ireland, perhaps on the level of A Date for Mad Mary – something which it deserves. Not only does it look like a proper film – I was surprised to learn it was based on a play, a credit to Collin’s direction – but it focuses on the trials and tribulations of people often under presented or misrepresented in cinema, let alone Irish cinema.

 

Sanctuary screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: 20th Century Women

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DIR/WRI: Mike Mills • PRO: Anne Carey, Megan Ellison, Youree Henley • DOP: Sean Porter • ED: Leslie Jones • DES: Chris Jones • MUS: Roger Neill • CAST: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning

As much as I enjoy a tight narrative and a gripping story, there is something to be said for films where the look and atmosphere is almost, maybe even more, vital to their success than the tale they tell. Such is the case with writer-director Mike Mills’ latest 20th Century Women. Set predominately in 1979 Santa Barbara, the movie is a series of loosely connected scenes and vignettes – all linked by single mother Dorothea (the always stellar Annette Benning) and her attempts to teach her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), what it means to be “a good man”. After failing to find a father figure in local handy-man, William (Billy Crudrup), Dorothea enlists the help of Jamie’s friend and crush, Julie (rising starlet Elle Fanning), as well as her second-wave feminist lodger, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), in raising the boy.

While the story at the heart of 20th Century Women is lovely, what’s even more impressive is the way it’s portrayed by Mills. In a similar style to his previous feature Beginners (which earned Christopher Plummer an Oscar in 2012), the director foregoes a straight narrative in favour of creating a movie which feels almost like someone warmly re-living the vital moments of their life, a visual poem or essay about the influences – the era, the people you know, the music and literature you consume – that shape one’s identity. He dares to plunge the audience into the moment, jumping, not just through time, but also from the main story to archival footage and clips from other films. This technique causes 20th Century Women to play like an endless stream of beautiful moments, while leaving every scene feeling important to the character’s lives and deeply personal.

Personal seems to be the key word in defining Mills. His previous feature, which centred on a seventy-five-year-old man coming out as openly gay just years before his death, was based on his father. Here, the filmmaker turns his attention to his mother and the other feminine figures in his life. Perhaps it’s because all the characters are heavily based on those close to Mills, but each one feels three-dimensional. He includes minor details in Dorothea and Jamie’s duelling narration that reveal a ton of information about the personalities at the heart of the movie. For example, it mentions in passing that after reading Watership Down, Benning’s character began carving wooden rabbits. It’s only a small detail but it sets up the way Dorothea can’t analyse something without taking it to the extreme – something evident in her parenting style where she strives to understand the things which interest her child, e.g. the sounds of The Raincoats and Black Flag.

The fact that each character feels so fleshed out gives Mills’ supremely talented cast a lot of material to sink their teeth into. Annette Benning and Billy Crudrup are so naturalistic, making both the comedic moments – of which there are many – and the more poignant beats even more palpable. Greta Gerwig is her usual kooky self but is given more of an opportunity to show her impressive range than in previous work. Elle Fanning is excellent in a multi-layered role, which begins as a sex symbol/cipher but unspools into a more nuanced character study. Strangely but probably intentionally its Lucas Jade Zumann’s Jamie – the stand-in for Mills – who tends to get overshadowed by the females in his life and their stories. However, even Zumann is a deadpan delight in his few but memorable comic interactions.

It’s exciting to witness the birth of a potential new auteur. With 20th Century Women, Mills improves on the style of Beginners and appears committed to delivering highly personal tales rendered with heady kaleidoscopic beauty.

Stephen Porzio

118 minutes

16 See IFCO for details

20th Century Women is released 10th February 2017

20th Century Women – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Milla Jovovich stars in Screen Gems' RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER.

DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Samuel Hadida, Robert Kulzer • DOP: Glen MacPherson • ED: Doobie White • DES: Edward Thomas • MUS: Paul Haslinger • CAST: Ruby Rose, Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter

I think it’s fair to say that even the biggest fan of the Resident Evil franchise would have trouble distinguishing the movies apart. Aside from the third entry in the series, Extinction (which was directed by Highlander’s Russell Mulcahy and therefore looks far better than the rest), each one is pretty much the exact same film. Milla Jovovich’s mysterious ass-kicker teams up with a rag-tag group of zombie fodder to fight hordes of increasingly disgusting monsters.

As more sequels emerged, the franchise’s mythology grew increasingly convoluted – tales of clones, telekinesis and corporate intrigue were introduced. However, the plot was never what held one’s attention. Viewers seek out these movies to see a cool heroine dispatch with zombies in extremely gory fashion. The series has never been high-art but up until now it’s been passably entertaining.

What is particularly disappointing about sixth entry Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is that it fails even this already low-bar. Despite directing the original Resident Evil as well as some of the later movies, Paul W.S. Anderson (who made the great Event Horizon) just phones it in. None of the action is particularly memorable, being noticeably cut faster and more kinetically than any of the previous films – leaving it feeling excruciatingly tough to follow. He also seems to think that because he is making something based on a videogame that he must transition from scene to scene with visual and aural static glitches. Its ugly and headache inducing.

Speaking of “tough to follow”, there is also the plot which has gotten so convoluted that The Final Chapter begins with a ten-minute expository dump recapping all the major events of the first five films. Not even this makes anything which occurs comprehensible as the viewer is left shaking their head at the ridiculous nature of twists – most one will see coming a mile away – and by how none of it makes any sense even for the Resident Evil world. For instance, if Iain Glen’s villain – who released the virus which left only 4,000 humans on Earth, why won’t he kill the old and frail co-owner of his company – the one person who can truly foil his plan? He killed her father/his former business partner for the same reason. Even worse, why did he make many many clones of her? The movie is riddled with distracting plot holes such as this.

Even the supporting cast – which in the past had solid character actors like Jared Harris, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Wentworth Miller – is lacking here. Iain Glen looks like he is having fun but everyone else either is bland or is playing bland characters. An example of this is Ruby Rose (a highlight of the surprisingly fun XXX: Return of Xander Cage), somebody who is talented and looks the part as a tough heroine yet is given absolutely zero to do.

It’s a shame that the series will probably bow out after its weakest picture. The best I can advise fans of the franchise who were giving serious consideration into seeing this is to watch the reverse action scene from the opening of Resident Evil: Retribution or the moment with the coin gun in Afterlife. Both are on Youtube and are quicker, funnier and look better than anything in The Final Chapter.

Stephen Porzio

106 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is released 3rd February 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Denial

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DIR: Mick Jackson • WRI: David Hare • PRO: Gary Foster, Marta Habior, Russ Krasnoff • DOP: Haris Zambarloukos • ED: Justine Wright • DES: Andrew McAlpine • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall

Denial is a great example of how a terrific cast can elevate material. Essentially a four-hander, the true-life film stars Rachel Weisz as Deborah E. Lipstadt – a Jewish-American professor in Holocaust studies who in 1993 published “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”. The book examined and condemned its titular action, taking aim at David Irving (Timothy Spall) – a historian with a neo-Nazi following who argued Jewish people were not murdered at Auschwitz. Angered by her insults, Irving sues Lipstadt for libel. Yet, events escalate further as the plaintiff is English and in British Law, the burden of proof lies with the accused. Weisz’s character, along with her legal team, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), must prove that the Holocaust did indeed happen.

The script by famed playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare (Damage, The Hours) is undeniably strong – making parallels between the notorious Irving and Trump – both are men who use hate-filled ramblings backed-up with flawed evidence to achieve fame. Yet, what really brings Hare’s words to life are the performances by the main four which are note perfect. Weisz, working with a Queens accent, manages to avoid falling into a Woody Allen-esque stereotypical portrayal of a Jewish New Yorker, while also capturing her character’s ferocity and emotional vulnerability convincingly.

Meanwhile, Spall is absolutely enthralling whenever he is on-screen. At one point, two members of Julius’ legal team (Caren Pistorius and Jack Lowden, the former of which I wanted more of) note how Irving is just as charismatic as he is slimy – a trait Spall manages to convey effortlessly. A minor flaw of the film is that the actor’s most juicy material occurs in Denial’s first half, as the latter predominately focuses on Lipstadt and her legal team. Personally, I’d loved to have seen more of Irving’s side of the story or personal life. However, this is a thought that emerges in hindsight after-viewing as when Scott and Wilkinson are on-screen, it’s like being in safe hands. The Sherlock actor, known predominately for playing villains, shines in his uptight, stiff-upper lip but ultimately kind-hearted role, while Wilkinson manages to be both a hot-bed of intensity and a warm venerable figure.

Directed by workman filmmaker Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard), Denial isn’t overtly cinematic. There are little to no stylish flourishes leaving the movie feeling a lot like a BBC TV film – a sensation not helped by the fact that both Weisz and Hare collaborated on Page Eight. Yet, for fans of courtroom dramas or people who just enjoy seeing great character actors sink their teeth into a meaty script, Denial is more than worth the price of admission.

Stephen Porzio

109 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Denial is released 27th January 2017

Denial – Official Website

 

 

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Review: A Monster Calls

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DIR: J.A. Bayona • WRI: Patrick Ness • PRO: Belén Atienza • DOP: Oscar Faura • ED: Jaume Martí, Bernat Vilaplana • DES: Eugenio Caballero • MUS: Fernando Velázquez • CAST: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougal

When a director emerges right out of the gate with a near-masterpiece, the problem is that his/her fans expect that the filmmaker’s later output will be of a similar calibre. In 2007, J.A. Bayona’s debut The Orphanage hit theatre screens. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film is a chilling and unforgettable tale which revitalised the ghost story. However, this magnificent achievement, which is up there with the best of gothic cinema, only makes his latest, A Monster Calls, pale in comparison. Although the latter is splendidly directed by the Spaniard, its story is too familiar and simplistic to last the test of time like his first feature.

Lewis MacDougall stars in A Monster Calls as Conor, a young boy whose single mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill. While dealing with the situation, as well as school bullies and inter-familial strife, the child is visited by a gruff tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). The creature tells Conor three tales which may hold some relevance in regards to what the boy is going through.

The book of the same name on which the film is based, written by Patrick Ness (who also adapted the script), is renowned for its illustration of the stories The Monster tells Conor. The moments in Bayona’s film where the audience escapes the grim reality of its protagonist’s world through these immersive Aesop’s Fables-like vignettes are gorgeous. The director shifts from real-life into animation and the sequences look legitimately like watercolours splashed into life on-screen.

Bayona is also great at action sequences. Although these are admittedly few and far between within the movie, there are moments where the director gets to capitalise on his skill. When The Monster first tears away from his roots binding him to the ground and approaches the bedroom window of Conor, there is a weight to the proceedings. Bayona builds dread, concealing the tree from the viewer, and emphasises, through focusing on the ground shaking or signs being destroyed, exactly how hulking the giant monster truly is.

However, Ness’ screenplay is not complex enough. Although every actor gives it there all, particularly Toby Kebbell as Conor’s estranged father, each character’s whole personality can be summed-up in one sentence – angelic dying mother, warm but irresponsible father, stern grandmother with a heart of gold, mean bully. One could argue that in famous fairy-tales, the characters are often equally as basic. Yet, Ness makes a point to mention that the moral of The Monster’s first story is that no one is simply good or evil. This message, then, clashes with the movie’s depiction of Conor’s mother or his bully.

Centring upon a character who retreats into a fantasy world as a means of avoiding his tragic every-day surroundings, A Monster Calls evokes memories of Pan’s Labyrinth. However, while Del Toro’s film showcased a period of history rarely seen in cinema and featured an over-abundance of unforgettable visuals, Bayona’s doesn’t do enough to truly differentiate itself from similar movies released this year like The B.F.G or Pete’s Dragon. It is certainly emotional and looks beautiful but there is very little that stays with the viewer days after watching.

Stephen Porzio

108 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

A Monster Calls is released 6th January 2017

A Monster Calls – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: United States of Love

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DIR/WRI: Tomasz Wasilewski • PRO: Agnieszka Drewno, Piotr Kobus • DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Beata Walentowska • DES: Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska • CAST: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak

Set in Poland, 1990, United States of Love is a portmanteau film that charts the love lives of multiple women over three stories. The first, regarding sexual love, deals with Agata (Julia Kijowska), whose relationship to her husband, Jacek (Lucasz Simla), has become emotionally distant. However, her voyeuristic attraction to a local priest helps reinvigorate the sex the couple share. The second segment, centring upon unrequited love, sees school principal Iza (Magdalena Cielecka) attempt to solidify her relationship to the man she has been having an affair with for six years just after his wife dies. The final section, revolving around the idea of “love for your fellow man”, centres upon the elderly, recently forced to retire schoolteacher Renata (Dorota Kolak) who has grown lonely. She begins to take drastic measures to connect with her younger, dance instructor and aspiring model neighbour, Marzena (Marta Nieradkiewicz).

Director Tomasz Wasilewski, with the help of cinematographer Oleg Muth (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) succeeds in recreating the Poland of the early nineties to a tee. If one compares United States to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog series, made in 1989, the two films look very similar. Muth’s washed-out cinematography and the dreary Soviet Bloc apartments in which most of the action takes place convey very strongly to the audience the coldness of the time period. Although, communism is beginning to fall and U.S. culture is becoming increasingly prevalent (Agata works in DVD shop selling American movies, Marzena brags about managing to buy a bottle of Fanta), the Poland of the film still feels trapped in the past. Women are casually beaten and mistreated by men, the housing and work conditions look small and cramped. At one point, we hear a child describe how “the cold air hurts her throat”. Even the physical atmosphere itself feels toxic and oppressive.

Wasilewski shoots the film in a similar method to directors like Kieslowski (there are also plenty of narrative nods to Dekalog), Michael Haneke or Asghar Farhadi – observing his central player’s lives from an unobstrusive cold distance to allow the viewer to form their own interpretation on events. The style fits the movie because United States, for the most part, is a very nuanced look at adult love. Although, the film predominately focuses on the negative side of its central topic – obsession, voyeurism, disillusionment – maintaining a chilly atmosphere throughout, there are emotional highs. The brief and subtle moment in the third story when, noticing how forlorn Renata looks watching a group of younger couples waltz, Marzena asks the old woman for a dance is incredibly moving.

That said, the film takes a blunt and heavy-handed detour in the last twenty minutes, which jars with the delicacy Wasilewski brought to his exploration of love previously in the drama. Without spoiling, not only is what happens also quite clichéd but the events leading up to the act just don’t ring true.

It’s unfortunate that the film chose to end at this point because what proceeded it was a well-observed, intelligent drama which, although not quite up there with the likes of Kieslowski or Haneke, does evoke memories of some of these masters’ best movies. Perhaps, Wasilewski with later works could reach their dizzying heights.

          Stephen Porzio

104 minutes

United States of Love is released 9th December 2016

 

 

 

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Podcast Interview: Gerard Walsh wri/dir of ‘South’

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Stephen Porzio talks to Gerard Walsh about his film South, which is out now in Irish cinemas.

South tells the story of Tom, a young man struggling with the recent death of his father. After finding a note from his estranged mother he decides to hit the road and try to find her. Throughout this journey Tom also tries to overcome his crippling stage fright as a musician. Along his journey he meets Jess, a free-spirited young woman that captivates his mind and heart.

 

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Review: Gimme Danger

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DIR/WRI: Jim Jarmusch • PRO: José Ibáñez, Carter Logan, Fernando Sulichin • ED: Affonso Gonçalves, Adam Kurnitz • CAST: Ewan McGregor, Iggy Pop, Mike Watt

 

“Let’s call the band “The Stooges” because we don’t do anything wrong but everyone’s picking on us”

Jim Jarmusch is a hip individual. The director is clearly in love with art and culture, something obvious when one watches Dead Man or Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai or Only Lovers Left Alive. Music is a major influence on his life with him going as far as to frequently casting musicians in his pictures – Tom Waits in Down by Law, Joe Strummer in Mystery Train and The White Stripes and Wu-Tang Clan in Coffee & Cigarettes. Thus, it’s no shock to see the auteur returning to the documentary format for the first time in nineteen years to direct a film about his rock star friend Iggy Pop (who had small but memorable roles in Dead Man and Coffee & Cigarettes) and his band The Stooges.

The documentary charts familiar territory, e.g. the formation of the band, their rise to success, their subsequent decline and their vast influence. Thankfully, however, the true-life story is interesting enough to sustain a movie. The fact that the film features Pop (who is a warm and lively presence) and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the band – guitarist James Williamson, bassist Ron Asheton and drummer Scott Asheton – speaking openly about their contemporaries, e.g. Nico and John Cale, their tribulations, and their lives post-Stooges is a major plus. Also, Jarmusch manages to take a film consisting solely of interviews, photographs and archival footage, and make it feel cinematic. The director adds animated sequences and clips from old Hollywood movies to enhance and punctuate the band’s often humourous summarisation of events.

Gimme Danger isn’t as experimental as typical Jarmusch fare (it actually has a very similar feel and story structure to the recent Oasis documentary Supersonic). However, there are brief moments where the director transcends the simple rags to riches tale. The auteur appears fascinated with the artistic process – taking momentary breaks from the story, told chronologically, to showcase the band’s vast array influences, musical and style wise. The viewer learns how Ron Asheton’s stage wear featuring Nazi symbols – which led many in the punk community to think the band were nihilistic in message – in reality, came from he and his Dad’s penchant for war memorabilia. Pop’s fashion, on the other hand, arose from his love of old movies set in Pharaoh-era Egypt. Perhaps, most interestingly, the band’s uncomplicated, repetitive lyrics are the result of a children’s show Iggy watched as a boy which would only accept letters from fans “twenty-five words or less”. With these small diversions, Jarmusch subtly highlights how even minor experiences can play such a huge role in defining one’s identity.

One does sense that the film was intended as a love letter to The Stooges rather than a probing exploration – the band’s complicated relationship with David Bowie, who ended up mixing their third album “Raw Power” perhaps could have been explored further. Thus, there is a lingering feeling that Jarmusch should have implemented more of the titular “danger” into his film. Yet, standard as it is, Gimme Danger succeeds at being a very enjoyable documentary that shines a light on a great, great band. Sometimes that’s more than enough.

Stephen Porzio

108 minutes

Gimme Danger is released 18th November 2016

Gimme Danger – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: South

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DIR/WRI: Gerard Walsh • PRO: Matthew Toman • CAST: Darragh O’Toole, Emily Lamey, Joe Rooney, Andie McCaffrey Byrne

The latest in a seemingly new-wave of uplifting Irish cinema, Gerard Walsh’s sophomore effort, South, stars newcomer Darragh O’Toole (Red Rock) as seventeen-year-old Tom, an aspiring musician suffering from stage fright. Following the death of his supportive single father, the protagonist decides to journey from his home county of Galway to Dublin to track down his estranged mother. On the way, he meets Jess (Emily Lamey), a free-spirited girl with whom he forms a bond.

Winner at the Fingal Film Festival for Best Feature, South is an amiable coming-of-age drama that captures warmly the awkwardness of youth, e.g. trying desperately to get served in off-licences to impress the opposite sex, getting into conversations with odd people by accident and not knowing how to excuse oneself. The relationship that develops between Tom and Jess is delicately played by O’Toole and Lamey, particularly in regards to the latter whose performance never becomes a “manic pixie dream girl” cliché. Although the way the central characters meet does not feel authentic, their interactions and how they act around each other does.

That said, at the premiere, producer Matthew Toman spoke about how Walsh showed up to him with South’s script and just a few months later, they were shooting the movie. Another few drafts of the screenplay could have benefitted proceedings as the dialogue within the film is not as punchy or as witty as it could be. For example, Tom narrates the entire movie rather unnecessarily, which wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the lines he was delivering were comedic. However, although one can see the humour in what Tom is saying, there are moments where the jokes fall a little flat. Too often the film settles for a pattern where something odd will happen to the protagonist, to which he will tell the audience “that was weird” and then repeat.

Yet, although Walsh’s screenplay is nothing to write home about, his direction is very solid, capturing a similar vibe to Darren Thornton’s work earlier in the year on A Date for Mad Mary. There is a scene in South where Tom and Jess have an intimate exchange against a sea backdrop which looks genuinely beautiful, with the central couple illuminated in a golden hue. Also, the film’s acoustic guitar driven soundtrack is very good, as it should be given how important music is to Tom’s story.

Overall, South is an enjoyable entry in both the road-trip and the coming-of-age sub-genre. At 78 minutes, it flies by and just as one thinks it’s running out of steam, Andie McCaffrey Byrne (Savage, Love/Hate) arrives to add some much-needed emotional heft as Tom’s mother.

Stephen Porzio

78 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

South is released 18th November 2016

 

 

 

 

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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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DIR: David Yates • WRI: J.K. Rowling • PRO: David Heyman, Steve Kloves, Tim Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Rick Senat,Lionel Wigram • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: Mark Day • DES: Stuart Craig, James Hambidge • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sees J.K. Rowling capitalising on the magic that made her Harry Potter novels and subsequent films a success, this time adapting the script herself. Set in 1922 New York, Oscar-Winner Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a wizarding naturalist whose magical creatures escape and begin to wreak havoc in the Big Apple. His quest to find them leads him to cross paths with magician policewoman Tina Goldstein (Inherent Vice’s Katherine Waterston), her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and a muggle (or as the Americans say “no-maj”) factory worker, Jacob (a great Dan Fogler). The foursome’s attempts to recover Newt’s animals lead them to uncover an evil force plaguing New York.

The first thirty to forty minutes of the film are delightful, with Rowling and returning franchise director David Yeats doing a terrific job crafting the world of the central characters. His camera will often turn away from the protagonists and gaze out upon the magical wonders of their surroundings. Although, plenty of what the viewer sees feels familiar to Harry Potter fans – photos in newspapers which are constantly moving – the New York period setting, filled with dingy alleyways and glamorous Jazz Age speakeasys, is consistently exciting to explore. Although I’m firmly anti-3D due to how dark it makes every film appear, Yates uses it to his advantage here, immersing the audience in the film’s setting. As his camera sweeps through the metropolis, large buildings seem to protrude off the screen towards the viewer, causing me, on at least two occasions, to jump.

There is also a charming playfulness to the film in this opening act, with almost every joke landing. The titular fantastic beasts venturing through New York have a real slapstick edge to them. For instance, one of Newt’s creatures, which resembles a hamster, is obsessed with shiny objects and ends up rummaging through banks and jewellery stores for coins and jewels, half destroying them in the process. Redmayne and Fogler’s characters attempts to retrieve the animal, which make it seem to bystanders that they are the one’s actually doing the robbing, are genuinely funny. Fogler, in particular, has such excellent comic delivery, responding to everything that is happening with a warm blend of awe and fear.

However, like so many recent blockbusters – Doctor Strange, Miss Peregrine, to a lesser extent Suicide Squad – within Fantastic Beasts, one enjoys the characters and their interactions so much (Sudol and Fogler have wonderful chemistry) that when the plot kicks in suddenly, it loses some of its charm. It doesn’t help that Rowling’s screenplay is far too crowded, pitting the four main players against almost half a dozen villains. There is Samantha Morton as the leader of an anti-witch organisation, her often-bullied son (Ezra Miller), a brilliant and against-type Colin Farrell as Tina’s shady boss, Jon Voight as a no-maj of great influence with a vendetta against the magic community and a malevolent destructive force called “The Obscurus” which feeds off hate. Although all these strands are intermittently interesting, particularly the latter which emerges from witches suppressing their power (Rowling’s social commentary on segregation no doubt), each one isn’t given enough time to be adequately explored. Morton suffers the most from this with her great talents being utterly wasted.

Aside from some Marvel-esque setting up of future instalments from the Fantastic Beasts franchise (a reference to Dumbeldore, a Johnny Depp cameo), the cluttered screenplay is the only real problem with the film. The performances by the lead four are enjoyable and the characters are certainly endearing. Yates’ action is always good, if unremarkable and Rowling does for long periods, mainly the beginning and the ending, capture the magic that made her novels the rousing success they are. As I left my screening, I heard an excited boy ask his father, “What was your favourite beast!”. On the basis of this, it will clearly work for its target demographic. That said, a more focused screenplay and a greater reliance on character wouldn’t go amiss in the obligatory sequel.

Stephen Porzio

132 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is released 18th November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Official Website

 

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Podcast Interview: Pieter-Jan De Pue, director of ‘The Land of the Enlightened’

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Stephen Porzio talks to Pieter-Jan De Pue, the director of the Irish co-production The Land of the Enlightened. 

A  group of  Kuchi  children  are  living  in  a  minefield  around  Bagram  airfield,  Afghanistan.  They dig out old Soviet  landmines  in order to sell the explosives to child workers in the  Lapis  Lazuli mine.  Meanwhile  Gholam  Nasir  and  his  gang  control  the  mountains  where  caravans  are smuggling the blue gem stones to the border of Tajikistan and Pakistan.

When Gholam’s gang is not  guiding  the  caravans  over  the  frozen  rivers,  they  dream about  Afghanistan  after  the withdrawal of the Americans. Some of them will grow up as soldiers, others will remain with the caravans.

But  Gholam  dreams  about  marrying  and  living  with  his queen  in  the  palace  in  Kabul.  Will Afghanistan have a new king after the foreigners will have returned home?

The co-production was produced by Morgan Bushe for Irish production company Fastnet Films together with Savage Film, Submarine, Eyeworks and Gerbrueder Beetz Produktion.

Find out more about the documentary at www.thelandoftheenlightened.com

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Moscow Never Sleeps

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DIR/WRI: Johnny O’Reilly • PRO: Katie Holly, Johnny O’Reilly • DOP: Fedor Lyass • ED: Dermot Diskin, Nico Leunen • DES: Pierre Brayard, Ekaterina Zaletaeva • MUS: Roman Litvinov • CAST: Evgenia Agenorova, Rustam Akhmadeyev, Ieva Andrejevaite 

Moscow Never Sleeps, the latest from Russia-situated Irish director Johnny O’Reilly (The Weather Station), showcases the capital terrifically well. While the city is more frequently used in cinema as a backdrop for historical cold-war dramas or as a minor stopping off point in spy thrillers for exotic heft, here it looks authentically bustling and metropolitan. Fedor Lyass’ wide-angled and shimmering cityscape shots, achieved with advanced drone technology, manage to portray the capital in a unique way, uncompromised by any political agendas.

In the vein of Magnolia or Short Cuts, the film features five disparate storylines, each centring upon people of different positions in the Russian social strata – which interlock in unexpected ways. O’Reilly deserves credit for taking typical Russian archetypes – a vodka guzzling old man, a wealthy business man, a hoodlum, a good girl, a bad girl, a babushka – and humanising them. He analyses the reasons why these characters behave in the ways they do, adding more depth to their traditionally clichéd character tropes.

In films broken up into segments, unevenness is common. In Moscow Never Sleeps, for every engaging tale – an elderly celebrity (Yuriy Stoyanov) kidnapped by adoring fans or a wealthy businessman (Aleksei Serebryakov, Leviathan) stomped out by bureaucracy (both of which feel incredibly timely), there is a less interesting one – which causes the film to lag. In regards to the latter, O’Reilly gets too bogged down in stories regarding love-affairs and familial bonds which don’t possess as much inventiveness as the way he approaches his characters.

That said, Moscow Never Sleeps zips by at a rollicking pace, meaning the less engaging stories don’t tend to drag on for too long. It’s only 95 minutes in length, which is incredible given how much the film covers, both city and society wise. Also, this brevity is a breath of fresh air given how long movies featuring intertwining stories tend to be. It’s worth noting that O’Reilly handles the obligatory big moments in films like this, which serve to link the major characters together, with panache, e.g. a flashy firework display, ignited to celebrate Moscow’s “City Day”.

Overall, as a love-letter to the Russian capital, the movie succeeds.

Stephen Porzio

99 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Moscow Never Sleeps is released 11th November 2016

Moscow Never Sleeps – Official Website

 

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Podcast: Interview with Johnny O’Reilly, writer/director of ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’

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Stephen Porzio talks to Johnny O’Reilly about his film Moscow Never Sleeps, a multi-story drama that weaves through Moscow’s choked cityscape as it celebrates its birthday with a massive fireworks display. Over the course of one day, many lives will change forever.

Capturing the kinetic energy of the Russian capital, Johnny O’Reilly’s Moscow Never Sleeps cleverly interweaves five compelling stories in a provocative statement on Putin’s Russia.

Moscow Never Sleeps is a drama about the hidden bonds that connects us all. The film dives headlong into the volatile intersections of contemporary Moscow and the intimate lives of five people: An entrepreneur whose business empire comes under siege by powerful bureaucrats, a teenage girl mired in the misery of a broken home, a young man forced to chose between his girlfriend and his grandmother; a beautiful singer torn apart by the pursuit of two men, and an ailing film star who gets embroiled in a bizarre kidnapping.

These stories weave through Moscow’s choked cityscape as it celebrates its birthday with a massive fireworks display. They reveal the unrestrained energy of Europe’s biggest city and the cruelty and beauty of the Russian spirit.

The film stars many of Russia’s best-known actors including Alexey Serebriakov (Leviathon). It was written and directed by Irish filmmaker, Johnny O’Reilly who has lived in Moscow for 12 years. The film aims to give audiences a unique view of Russian humanity, to present a true impression of a vibrant culture overshadowed by egregious policies of a corrupt government and to capture the pulsating spirit of Europe’s biggest city.

Moscow Never Sleeps is released in Irish cinemas on 11th November 2016

 

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Moscow Never Sleeps is released in Irish cinemas on 11th November 2016

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Review: The Accountant

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DIR: Gavin O’Connor • WRI:  Bill Dubuque • PRO: Lynette Howell Taylor, Mark Williams • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Richard Pearson • DES: Keith P. Cunningham • MUS: Mark Isham • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Ben Affleck, Jon Bernthal

After Ron Howard’s Dan Brown adaptation Inferno, I didn’t think there could possibly be a film released the same year that made less sense. Boy, was I wrong. The Accountant stars Ben Affleck as Christian Woolf, a sufferer of high-functioning autism who uses his disability to engage in the titular profession for shady businesses on both sides of the law. He is employed by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), the head of a robotics corporation, to sort out mysterious discrepancies in his company’s accounts. Meanwhile, Woolf’s previous dealings with various gangsters and drug dealers provoke the attention of the Treasury Department, fronted by Ray King (Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons).

The film isn’t completely devoid of pleasures. Affleck, although arguably a little too glamorous to play a social misfit, puts in a very committed performance, never just relying upon ticks to portray his affliction. Through the way he holds himself or his subtle but pained grimace during social interactions, the viewer is immersed in his struggle. In fact, the acting all round – Jon Bernthal (Netflix’s Daredevil), Jean Smart (FX’s Fargo) and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) in particular – manages to fool the audience, at least in the first third, into thinking that the film has a brain in its head.

However, once one realises that everything which occurs in Bill Dubuque’s script relies completely on coincidence, the movie falls horrendously apart. The plot by the writer (who also wrote the similarly scattershot The Judge) makes no sense, particularly in its final third, where it drops not one, not two, but three insanely illogical twists – one of which had the audience I saw the film with guffawing at the outrageousness of it all. Director Gavin O’Connor does himself no favours too, editing the latter sequence like a comedy.

The film isn’t dull exactly, as there is enough serviceable action and good acting to retain a fast momentum. However, it’s so unexciting to have two characters engage in a ten-minute plot exposition loaded conversation as a means of explaining the entire backstory of the central character.

It’s disappointing because there is something extraordinary sounding about a film where a child overcomes his autism by studying martial arts and maths, using these three characteristics to become a superhero of sorts. However, by over-complicating, while simultaneously dumbing down, the story and by adding too many extraneous characters, The Accountant underserves a decent sounding premise.

Stephen Porzio

127 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

The Accountant is released 4th November 2016

The Accountant – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: War On Everyone

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DIR/WRI: John Michael McDonagh • PRO: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross • DOP: Bobby Bukowski • ED: Chris Gill • DES: Wynn Thomas • MUS: Lorne Balfe • CAST: Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson

Writer/Director, John Michael McDonagh, returns with his latest black comedy War On Everyone. It’s a throwback to the buddy cop movies of the 1970s that remains too true to its title that it essentially becomes a war on the audience, who stare on in confusion as the film’s protagonists go all “Bad Santa” on Albuquerque’s criminal underbelly. With the charming The Guard and the fascinating Calvary under his belt there was somewhat of an anticipation for McDonagh’s next feature. I am sorry to say that War On Everyone certainly disappoints. For a filmmaker whose primary arsenal is his pen, it’s surprising to see that the writing is what fundamentally damages this film.

The dark comedy that both McDonagh brothers have utilised within their scripts have served them well when employed within Irish culture, but when adapted to American stylings it does tend to falter a tad. We saw glimpses of this in Seven Psychopaths, but War On Everyone puts the icing on the cake in terms of cringe. The opening car chase is filled with promise until Michael Pena’s character non-chalantly says “I always wondered if you hit a mime does it make a sound”. Pena in the past has proved himself to be a great comedic asset within Hollywood (Observe and Report, Antman), but speaking McDonagh’s words he is clearly a misfit. Skarsgard isn’t as bad. His lanky Frankenstein-like presence in comparison to Pena is visually gratifying and his emotionally scarred persona does pack more punch to the narrative, but is far from saving this film from turmoil.

The truth is that War On Everyone is too much of clusterfuck to grab audience’s attention. It feels like every piece of dialogue needs to have a controverisal one liner to top it off. You get that sense that they are trying too hard to push the boundaries of good taste, trying too hard to end everything in a joke that by the time any real drama enters the story we’ve been lead astray too far to actually give a shit. We don’t care what happens to either of the protagonsists, we don’t care who gets whacked, who gets away with the money, we’ve been given the runaround so much that we simply lose interest. This is a movie that would have benefited more with less comedy. Or they should have gone full blown slapstick instead of going the route they did and failing miserably at balancing both.

Although War On Everyone doesn’t succeed as a feature length, it does exhibit some good moments and some interesting caricatures. The bizarre androgynous anatgonist, Russell, conveys enough weirdness to keep you mildly invested. The seedy undercurrent of the movie is reminiscent of hard boild 70s noirs such as Get Carter and Hardcore, but the overladen coarse jokes cut you short of any emotional depth. The soundtrack excels with an ecclectic playlist ranging from Glen Campbell to M.O.P. and there are a few laughs to be had, but for a good writer like John Michael McDonagh this is not enough. All these secondary pleasantries don’t mean shiiiiiittt if you can’t perform the bare neccessities. For a filmmaker of McDonagh’s calibre it is disappointing to see him dwindle as he transcends to a more commercial platform. Let’s hope it makes some money and he does better next time. Two out of three ain’t that bad.

Stephen Porzio

97 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

War On Everyone is released 7th October 2016

War On Everyone– Official Website

 

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Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: Jane Goldman • PRO: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping • DOP: Bruno Delbonnel • ED: Chris Lebenzon • DES: Gavin Bocquet • MUS: Michael Higham , Matthew Margeson • CAST: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson

After his recent forays into animation, the CGI fest that was Alice in Wonderland and the courtroom drama of Big Eyes, there is a joy in seeing a Tim Burton movie set in a world which looks visually authentic but still possesses the director’s unique, vibrant style. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children stars Asa Butterfield (Hugo) as Jake, a young man who, following his grandfather’s death (Terence Stamp), seeks to find the titular place his deceased loved one spoke so fondly about. Convincing his parents (Kim Dickens – oddly wasted, Chris O’Dowd) and his shrink (Allison Janney) a trip to Wales, where Stamp’s character lived as a boy, would be a good way of saying goodbye to his grandfather, he makes the journey. There he finds the school, led by Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine, just as the peculiar children face a deadly threat (Samuel L. Jackson).

The movie is visually dazzling. Tim Burton’s goth aesthetic is tailor-made for adapting Ransom Riggs’ novel, on which the film is based. One can tell how much fun the director is having portraying the eccentricities of each peculiar child (a boy with bees in his stomach, a teen that can bring ordinary items to life) and in staging some of the more audacious action set-pieces of the movie’s second-half (fake human skeletons fighting disgusting alien-like creatures with no eyes and long tongues).

It also, at times, has a great retro-punk vibe. The peculiar kids live forever, constantly rewinding the same day in 1940. Each night, as the loop begins to close, the children put on creepy gas-masks and watch as a Nazi missile blows up their Victorian orphanage, before the day returns to its beginning in a particularly inventive recurring sequence. Another key scene, sees Emma (Ella Purcell), a woman who can manipulate air, resurrecting a Titanic-like ship from the bottom of the sea as a means of travel. This combination of history and fantasy, along with its protagonists harbouring unusual powers, leaves the film feeling like a Tim Burton X-Men (Miss Peregrine was written by X-Men: First Class’ Jane Goldman), although more outré and therefore, more interesting.

The script, although slightly fuelled by plot-exposition, has that off-beat humour and fresh quality that Goldman brought to Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Even when she hits upon tired, formulaic beats (a romance between Jake and Ella), the writer brings enough ingenuity to make them interesting. For instance, one of the children’s gifts is being able to project his dreams and premonitions so that others can see them. Through this we see Jake and Ella about to kiss on a sunken ship (a neat Titanic homage). However, the boy can’t differentiate between his imaginings and his apparitions so we’re unaware how reliable the information is. Goldman then keeps faking out the audience with potential kisses between the two potential romantic partners, leaving one actually curious whether the vision was a lie.

The performances, for the most part, are excellent. Although Jake is a very bland character (he never feels like an outsider despite all his talk of being one), he is, for the most part, a means of introducing the audience to Peregrine’s unusual world. For that, Butterfield is serviceable. However, the show is stolen by Eva Green (between this and Dark Shadows, she is perhaps Burton’s new muse) as the titular teacher. As evident by her consistently stellar work on Penny Dreadful, there is no actress working today who walks the thin line between class and camp the way she does. The actress’ character is part-bird and as Variety writer Peter Debruge wrote so eloquently: “Green cleverly suggests her avian alter ego, standing rigidly upright in her peacock-blue satin gown – gorgeous work by designer Coleen Atwood, glowering down through exaggerated eyeliner, and brandishing her long, slender fingers as if they were talons”.

She is also backed up with a barrage of fine supporting performances. Terence Stamp manages to bring so much emotional heft to the movie with so little screen-time. Meanwhile Samuel L. Jackson and Rupert Everett look like they’re having a blast in their campy supporting turns.

Overall, it’s just terrific to see Burton returning to the same themes (alienation, the darkness of Americana) and stylistic beats (his blend of comedy and horror, his campy tone) of his best work, even if it is now less original than it once was. In this way, Miss Peregrine is akin to catching up with an old friend and finding you still enjoy their company.

Stephen Porzio

126 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is released 30th September 2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Official Website

 

 

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Review: De Palma

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DIR: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow • CAST: Brian De Palma

Earlier in the year saw the release of Hitchcock/Truffaut, a documentary adaptation of Francois Truffaut’s acclaimed book detailing his eight-day interview with legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. As both the interviewer and interviewee had since passed away, its director, Kent Jones, assembled filmmakers such as David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and James Gray to function as talking heads. Instead of Hitchcock explaining his movies, the audience had each director describing the influence the English auteur had upon them. Although, it was a terrific piece of work, the book on which it was based is far more interesting because it was Hitchcock himself speaking truthfully about his filmography, not someone else. What is great about Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s new documentary, De Palma, is that their subject is alive. Thus, the entirety of the film is just Brian De Palma describing frankly and candidly his films and the fascinating experiences he had making them.

For those who don’t know Brian De Palma is the master director behind classics such as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, The Untouchables and Carlito’s Way. Baumbach and Paltrow chart his evolution as a filmmaker, beginning with his student films and concluding with his most recent work. De Palma’s musings about each individual movie are then interspersed with the clips he is discussing.

Watching the documentary is like talking to a famous celebrity and having them confirm every strange rumour about the Hollywood film industry. It’s amazing to hear someone so successful and prominent in the studio system speak so openly. De Palma describes his difficulties on set with Orson Welles and John Cassavetes, the time he had to kick writer Oliver Stone off the set of Scarface and the clashes he had with the ratings board over Body Double and Scarface – all with reckless abandon.

Despite its simple structure, Baumbach and Paltrow manage to pack in a lot of information. De Palma rose to prominence at a very rare time in cinema history – during the New Hollywood movement. This was the brief period where art was given preference over financial returns, before businessmen took over the film industry once again (a time De Palma argues will never return). The movie finds time, amongst analysing its subject’s filmography, to touch upon the close-knit relationships between the various New Hollywood filmmakers. We see De Palma assisting Martin Scorsese in the editing of Mean Streets, George Lucas helping cast Carrie and Steven Spielberg wishing De Palma a happy birthday through home-video footage.

The most impressive aspect about the documentary is that it conveys, even to non De Palma fans, that the director is truly gifted at thinking cinematically. We are shown a scene from an early film made by De Palma and his theatre professor and mentor, Wilford Leach, entitled The Wedding Party. The two apparently had a falling out over how to shoot a scene where three characters are talking. Leach wanted a simple point and shoot long take while De Palma thought it was more visually pleasing to keep moving the camera and switching locations. We see both versions of the scene and the latter is much more appealing. Then, throughout the rest of documentary, clips from De Palma’s later output like Phantom of the Paradise, Blow Out and Carlito’s Way are shown. The audience realises while watching these that the director could make even a simple scene feel like it needed to be seen on the big screen.

I mentioned Hitchcock in the opening paragraph, not just because the documentary focusing on him is similar to this but, because De Palma was often critiqued for ripping off the English director’s style. Another advantage to having the American filmmaker as the sole talking head is that he can respond directly to his detractors. De Palma acknowledges that he is heavily influenced by Hitchcock but argues that the late director left a blueprint on how to make pure cinema and no one took note. He states: “I was the one practitioner who took up the things he pioneered and built them into different forms”.

De Palma is a rich documentary about one man, that also happens to be about cinema as a whole. Just to hear the director discuss his work and his influences, all while seeing his iconic scenes on the big screen once again make this essential viewing for cinephiles.

Stephen Porzio

110 minutes

De Palma is released 7th October 2016

De Palma – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: Anthropoid

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DIR: Sean Ellis • WRI: Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin • PRO: Sean Ellis, Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon • DOP: Sean Ellis • ED: Richard Mettler • DES: Morgan Kennedy • MUS: Robin Foster • CAST: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Harry Lloyd

Taking its sci-fi sounding title from the true-life operation code-name, WWII drama Anthropoid dramatizes the attempt to assassinate the Head of Nazi operations in Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich. The task was undertaken by Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) – two agents working under the order of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile (situated in London). While planning the murder (at least in the film), they each became romantically involved with two local women, Lenka (Anna Geislerova) and Marie (Charlotte Le Bon).

Written and directed by Sean Ellis (The Broken, Metro Manilla), the film is an extremely taut affair. Ellis and his co-writer Anthony Frewin mine maximum tension out of every possible situation. For instance, one would expect the Czech government-in-exile’s orders would correspond with the views of the resistance fighters within Prague tasked with helping Jozef and Jan. However, this is not the case with the latter believing the operation is too risky and unnecessarily dangerous for all involved. It is only Jan Zelenka-Hajský (Toby Jones – wonderful), an elderly opposition leader dedicated to regaining Czechoslovakia’s freedom from within the country’s capital, that greenlights Jozef’s and Jan’s orders, leading to conflict not only between the Government and the resistance but also within the resistance itself.

The film’s expertly constructed overwhelming sense of dread is not only found in its script. It’s in the direction too. The slow but gripping build of the Anthropoid’s first half pays off brilliantly as the movie erupts into action following the assassination attempt. After this, it never takes its foot off peddle – creating an unrelenting thrilling pace cumulating in a long and brilliantly executed, final set-piece. Also, in terms of the action sequences, Ellis skilfully creates a sense of quiet and stillness before shattering it completely with the sounds of explosions and machine-gun fire.

Ellis, who also was cinematographer on the film due to his experience as a fashion photographer, fills his Prague setting with smog and mist. This creates a simultaneously beautiful but unsettling view of the occupied city where danger lurks behind every corner. Also as many critics have noted, the film’s daylight scenes have a yellow tint which recalls gazing at old faded photos of the era.

The performances are excellent by Murphy and Dornan – particularly with how they counter-balance each other. Murphy, as evident by his work on Peaky Blinders, is a master at portraying quiet strength and intensity. This is utilised well here as Josef is the more silent agent, who shows little emotion because he knows if he becomes attached to anyone it will be harder to carry out his mission. Meanwhile, Dornan’s performance is the most emotionally affecting I’ve ever seen him give. His tragic, softer character, prone to panic attacks, somehow retains a hope throughout that he, his friend and his new lover can find peace.

In terms of the romantic sub-plot, Murphy and Grislerova’s is far more interesting than Dornan’s and Le Bon’s. Grislerova matches Murphy’s unsentimental performance, as both their characters are equally world-weary and aware their futures are doomed. Le Bon is good too but she and Dornan are given less interesting material to work with as the bulk of Marie and Jan’s relationship takes place off-screen and what doesn’t is quite traditional.

Despite some awkward Chekhov’s gun-esque signalling of future events and a brief moment of sentimentality in the finale which clashes with the movie’s grittiness, Anthropoid is one of the most gripping dramas of the year. It’s utterly compelling, tense and exciting – all in equal measure.

Stephen Porzio

120 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Anthropoid is released 9th September 2016

Anthropoid – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Dead Along the Way

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Stephen Porzio takes a look at the Maurice O’Carroll’s crime comedy, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

A unique feature of Irish drama, separating it from the rest of the world, is its humour. J.M Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Samuel Beckett’s absurdist theatre and the McDonagh brothers output – all are tinged with comedy. As a people, we tend to find the hilarity in dark situations. Even the recent thriller Traders, a satire of recession Ireland centring upon men who beat each other to death for large bags of money, possessed a strain of jet-black wit. Writer-director Maurice O’Carroll’s debut feature Dead Along the Way (made for a reported €10,000), although much, much slighter than the works mentioned above, is too flecked with shades of dark comedy.

The film, featuring a jumbled timeline, opens with two murders. In the past, gangster Big Jim (Tom Lawlor) has killed the twenty-nine-year-old who may have impregnated his sixteen-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, in the present, amateur videographers, Wacker (Niall Murphy) and Tony (Ciaran Bermingham, Game of Thrones), accidentally kill Big Jim, from whom Wacker borrowed money to pay for his girlfriend Aoife’s artificial insemination. The two men in order to survive must dodge Aoife (Donna Patrice, Raw), an over-zealous Ban-Garda (Sinead O’Riordan) and dump the gangster’s body.

I mention the role of comedy in Irish drama because Dead Along the Way plays out like a less interesting Martin McDonagh play (particularly one from his Leenane Trilogy, all revolving around violent deaths in quiet country towns). Maurice O’Carroll’s script is occasionally quite witty but is missing the darkness, the underlying themes or the interesting supporting characters that populate the similarly plotted work of McDonagh. Also, by aping the Irish playwright, by extension he apes one of his major influences, Quentin Tarantino. In Dead Along the Way, Tarantino’s trademark trunk shot is utilised various times for long scenes of dialogue, as is the juggling time-line of Pulp Fiction. As well as this, a torture scene in which Big Jim arrives dressed as Olivia Newton John (he was at a costume party) plays out like a toothless homage to Reservoir Dogs’ infamous ear-cutting scene in its contrast between humour and horror.

Also, the film looks quite bland, no doubt on account of its budget. However, there have been movies in the past that have looked gorgeous, made for less than €10,000 (El Mariachi, Following, Primer to name a few). O’Carroll too often falls into a pattern of “establishing shot, still camera as a character walks, side camera when two characters are in conversation, close-up, repeat” creating a rather repetitive feel.

However, although, there is nothing original or particularly deep in Dead Along in Way, there is a rough-around-the-edges charm to the movie. The main cast look as if they are giving it there all, despite working with limited resources. Niall Murphy (according to IMDB this is his first TV or movie credit) is a likeable protagonist, with the charismatic everyman feel of Colin Farrell. He and Bermingham possess a genial odd-couple chemistry, adding some emotional heft to a well-handled subplot regarding Tony’s closeted homosexuality. While the characters on Big Jim’s side of the story are crudely drawn and their performances leave a lot to be desired, Donna Patrice shines as Wacker’s long suffering girlfriend. In lesser hands, she could have been an unfunny straight-woman to Wacker and Tony’s antics, but Patrice adds a live-wire and chaotic flavour to the film’s already farcical final act.

Maurice O’Carroll has talents as a writer and mines fine performances from his leads. These attributes are enough to cautiously recommend his debut feature. Dead Along the Way is a quirky uniquely Irish crime-comedy which hints O’Carroll may produce better work in the future, with a larger budget.

 

Dead Along the Way screened on Wednesday, 6th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

 

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Review: War Dogs

war-dogs-3

DIR: Todd Phillips • WRI: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Mark Gordon, Todd Phillips • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Jeff Groth • DES: Bill Brzeski • MUS: Cliff Martinez • CAST: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas 

 

War Dogs is a movie that feels a little too pedestrian for its insane true-to-life subject matter. Whiplash’s Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a part-time masseuse and stoner, who is reunited with his old friend Efraim Diverioli (two-time Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill). Efraim’s business involves buying cheap guns and ammo and selling it to the American military during the Iraq war. The entrepreneur recruits David and the two manage to land the biggest weapons contract with the military of all time. Along the way, however, their morals get compromised and a rift begins to develop between them.

There is a lot to like about War Dogs. The cast is phenomenal. It’s scary how good Jonah Hill is at playing despicable, horrifying characters, delivering each offensive line with such commitment. Diverioli begins as essentially a slicker variation on Hill’s Wolf of Wall Street character. Yet as War Dogs continues, he becomes more like Leonardo Di Caprio’s Jordan Belfort – charming when needs be, but absolutely dead inside. The last scene between Hill and Teller is actually a little chilling, with Hill’s cold and sociopathic delivery. Although, his co-star is receiving the majority of the plaudits, Miles Teller is very good too. Hill’s performance is so big that he needed someone to counteract him by downplaying. Teller does just that but still impresses with his charismatic and likeable presence, as well as his confident narration.

I appreciate, also, how blackly-comic and bleak War Dogs is. Everyone in the movie (aside from maybe Kevin Pollak as Ephraim’s secret investor) is driven solely by money. Packouz and his wife, Iz (Ana de Armas), are established at the beginning as being against the Iraq war. Yet it only takes Ephraim to mention how it’s not about being “pro-war”, it’s about being “pro-money” to sway them. The Iraqi’s help the American’s, despite their feud, because they are bribed. The government only give responsibility to Ephraim and David because they financially low-balled their entire competition and the two fall out eventually over money. The film does pull its punches slightly, by not having its lead characters go full evil à la Mark Wahlberg in the similar in tone Pain & Gain, but it still deserves credit for creating a world where no one has any moral scruples.

However, there are some missteps. Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School) is not Martin Scorsese, despite how much he attempts to ape the style of the director. If David O. Russell gets an A on mimicking Scorsese and Adam McKay on The Big Short gets a B, Todd Phillips gets a C+ to B-. It’s not terrible. Phillips underscores his montages to rollicking classic songs and throws the camera round corridors and rooms, creating a sense of chaos and coolness serviceably. However, it’s the scenes between them which fall down, directed in a very point-and-shoot manner. Also, while Russell and McKay inject their own style into Scorsese’s formula, all Phillips does is insert slow-mo shots of people inhaling fumes out of bongs.

Also, as much as Meryl Streep can bemoan the lack of strong female characters in Scorsese’s filmography, at least Loraine Bracco in Goodfellas or Vera Farmiga in The Departed had more to do than Philips’ women. Ana de Armas is good but she is wasted in a dull, no personality wife role where her sole function is to nag David about lying. Every other woman who shows up is a stripper or prostitute. At the end of the film, a shadowy gun-runner played by Bradley Cooper states that he loves his business because of the lack of women, but even that feels like a cheap way to explain away fifty per-cent of the world’s population.

War Dogs is at times very good but its lack of originality holds it back from being truly great. As a result, what one is left with is a fascinating story and two charismatic lead turns that should be in a movie as good as they are.

 

Stephen Porzio

114 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

War Dogs is released 26th August 2016

War Dogs – Official Website

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