Cinema Review: Free Birds

freebirds-newtrailer

 

DIR: Jimmy Hayward • WRI: Jimmy Hayward, Scott Mosier • PRO: Scott Mosier • ED: Chris Cartagena •  DES: Mark Whiting •  MUS: Dominic Lewis • CAST: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Dan Fogler, Amy Poehler

Dear faithful reader – allow me to enlighten you on how work gets divvied up at Film Ireland HQ. If you’re imagining a more bookish version of Avengers Assemble than you’re not far off. Our roguish editor in chief Steven Galvin alerts us to upcoming missions. Usually volunteers are easy to find. You could throw a rock and hit a willing reviewer for the vast majority of films awaiting release. Arms shoot up with the eagerness of an incontinent kid in need of the bathroom. The glamour jobs like Gravity or the latest flick from the Coens cause a stampede towards Steven.

However, there’s a strain of film that causes a stampede in the opposite direction. Within seconds, ‘FI HQ’ is as empty as an echo chamber. Our plucky editor is sounding the klaxon but no one responds. It’s like a 999 call to a garda station that has deliberately left the phone off the hook for days on end. So Steven strides around the moonlit roof of FI HQ like Nick Fury pointing the Batsign in vain at the heavens.

And then a hero comes along with the strength to actually go to a G rated mid-tier non-Pixar animated film. There’s no glory in it but there is bravery. Now I’m a modest and handsome man but where does my bravery rank? Well, I occasionally nip to the shops without raingear. I once bit into a Scotch Bonnet chilli pretty much on purpose. I won’t interrupt a mugging but I will report it to the authorities at my earliest convenience. Going to a film like Free Birds though – that’s Purple Heart behaviour in critical circles.

Every critic going in knows it too. The swollen gallery of casual reviewers, guests and liggers evaporate in these cauldron moments. We are distilled down to the core few. No excess. No excuses. No passengers. Strewn across the vast chasm of seats like defiant pockets of resistance. We’re here to do a job and by god, we’re going to see it through. I know what you’re thinking by now – ‘where’s the bloody’ review? And firstly that’s not cool. This is a kid’s film and parents and children could be reading this expecting a G rated review for a G film. So ease up on the potty mouth people. Secondly, I’m trying out an AA Gill style review where he eventually mentions the food in the last two paragraphs.

So Free Birds is about a pardoned turkey on thanksgiving who travels back in time in order to change the Pilgrim’s choice of celebratory food for the very first all American holiday. Thereby saving future generations of turkeys. It’s not a bad premise at all but similar to a lot of recent animations, the idea is better than the actual script. I kept expecting a genuinely subversive notion like the turkeys trying to convert an entire nation to a vegetarian nut roast being a suitable centre piece for their festivities. As such, genuine wit is in short supply but some of the character design and sequences deliver enough action and humour to divert undemanding minds for the duration. Parents won’t be racing back to it but it’s plenty entertaining for little ones.

OK – let’s stuff in some turkey references. Audiences will flock to it because it’s plucking good fun. This film will be panned. It’s bound to get a critical roasting and be carved apart. It’s just a shame it doesn’t feature music by the Cranberries. And so on….

I’ll be back with a bulletin from the frontline again soon. Stay tuned folks and watch the skies. But not for turkeys. ‘Cos they can’t fly.

James Phelan

G (See IFCO for details)

90  mins

Free Birds is released on 29th November 2013

Free Birds – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

hunger_games_catching_fire_poster

 

DIR: Francis Lawrence  • WRI: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell •  DES: Philip Messina •  MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

The first instalment of The Hunger Games was an entertaining adaptation of the first novel in the series of three. The unique concept of the novel and its futuristic setting was enough to keep the story moving. However, it was the undeniably charismatic charm of its lead Jennifer Lawrence that brought heart to the story. Lawrence (along with her Oscar) and her fellow cast mates return with Catching Fire to see if they can replicate their success, this time with director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend).

Catching Fire is actually an improvement on its predecessor, the story is darker with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) beginning to look outside of her immediate situation to see the harsh reality of the people of Panem’s lives. Rebellion is on the horizon and the bleakness of their world is apparent. While the danger for Katniss and her partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in the first film is confined to the arena where the Hunger Games are conducted, in Catching Fire the danger is omnipresent and cannot be escaped.

We join Katniss and Peeta when they have survived the Hunger Games of the first film and are now being paraded in front of the districts to calm the mounting disquiet of the inhabitants. The creepy President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has plans for their demise and the threat of a real war is increasing. The inevitable love triangle is not as important a storyline as in other teenage blockbusters, with it being almost an inconvenience to the strong female lead of Katniss. In a post-Twilight world it has been a delight for audiences and critics alike to have a female lead like Katniss, whose concerns stretch a lot further than which boy to pick, and she is the polar opposite to the weak Bella Swan.

The only failing with the film is its length, at nearly two and a half hours it does drag in the middle, with the period in the arena the tightest and most exciting. The time in the arena brings home the themes of dystopia and is truly scary at times with all contestants out of their depth and fighting for their lives. Catching Fire is what a blockbuster should be like, and the male heroes of Superman, Batman and countless Marvel films could learn a thing or two from the ever-natural appeal of Lawrence. I, for one, hope Lawrence can keep this success rolling into its final two films.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

12A  (See IFCO for details)

146  mins

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released on 22nd November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Now You See Me

NOW YOU SEE ME

 

DIR: Louis Leterrier • WRI: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt • PRO: Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen, Larry Fong • ED: Robert Leighton, Vincent Tabaillon • DES: Peter Wenham • Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie Laurent

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco play ‘The Four Horsemen’, a rag-tag group of illusionists, hypnotists and street magicians that are assembled by a mysterious entity to form a magician super-group. Think The Avengers, but with David Blaine and Paul Daniels. A year on, they attract the attention of jaded FBI agent, Mark Ruffalo, and lovely French detective, Mélanie Laurent, when they publicly rob a bank during a Las Vegas show. Completing this cast of charismatic actors are Michael Caine, as the Four Horseman’s financial backer, and Morgan Freeman, as a professional illusion debunker.

The entire cast put in strong, but altogether tried and tested, performances. Jesse Eisenberg is teetering on the edge of one-trick-pony territory with the portrayal of a smug and arrogant genius; Woody Harrelson is in his element as the washed-up, likeable asshole; Morgan Freeman does his best God impression; and it feels like, once again, we are watching Michael Caine play himself. It is not as though any of these performances are bad, it just feels like we’ve seen this all before.

The chemistry between Mark Ruffalo, as the cynical FBI agent, and Mélanie Laurent, as the open-minded Interpol agent, was evident. But they, like the rest, suffer from there being simply too many characters. The majority of them are fairly interesting but, in trying to flaunt them all, none are given enough screen time to really shine. Coupled with a script that is heavy on plot and exposition, with enough space for a witty quip or two, and the characters are left disappointingly flat.

Ultimately though, this film is the kind that succeeds or fails on its ability to excite and entertain. No stranger to the action genre, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) delivers a high-octane film that looks and feels as slick as a slight of hand card trick. While lacking in substance and depth, at no point did I feel bored. A few plot holes and moments of implausibility can be forgiven in a well paced story that twists and turns. Action sequences look and sound great, there is even the obligatory car chase, and you may, ever so slightly, feel yourself edging forward in your seat during the elaborate sequences where the magician’s tricks are exposed.

Yes, ultimately the film is shallow, trivial and won’t win any awards for originality, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Now You See Me is like your average street magic, it won’t really put you under a spell, but it will leave you with a smile on your face.

Glenn Caldecott

 

115 mins
12A (see IFCO website for details)
 Now You See Me is released on 3rd July 2013

Now You See Me – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MHDYZJWLXA

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Cinema Review: Seven Psychopaths

DIR/WRI: Martin McDonagh • PRO: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Lisa Gunning • DES: David Wasco • CAST: Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell

Psychopaths make great movies. Or at least, psychopathic characters make for great movies. Just one psychopath can make for memorable viewing, such as Hannibal Lecter or, in TV land, Dexter. Seven psychopaths? Director Martin McDonagh hasn’t made your standard cinema fare in the past and he’s not about to start now.

 

McDonagh’s follow-up to the superb In Bruges reunites the director with Colin Farrell. Farrell plays the lead, Martin, a Hollywood screenwriter suffering from writer’s block with only the title of his next script committed to paper. The title of his script? ‘Seven Psychopaths’. So let’s recap – Seven Psychopaths is a movie about a screenwriter, named Martin, writing a movie called ‘Seven Psychopaths’. You’d be correct in thinking this not your average cinema material.

 

Seven Psychopaths is recognisable as a McDonagh production through its moments of shocking violence amidst prolonged spells of colourful language. The movie brings to mind similarly mind-bending ventures, such as anything by Charlie Kaufmann. It also recalls Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang as it playfully toys with Hollywood clichés. The movie jumps between the reality of McDonagh’s script and the fantasy of Martin’s script, with one bleeding into the other. McDonagh passes little heed on the innocent audience as he splices the two Hollywood worlds together, stopping just short of having his characters talk directly to the camera in a movie about moviemaking.

 

Farrell is given fantastic support from an array of actors that suit the title very nicely including Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits; men for whom psychosis doesn’t seem much of a stretch. The cast relish McDonagh’s dialogue in a script where anything goes, and regularly does go. Watching Walken and Harrelson share the screen is a sight to behold. Each man trying to out-psychopath the other until they are literally gobbling up scenery as quickly as their maniacally toothy grins will allow. Okay, maybe not literally, but not far off either.

 

With Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh has taken another bold step in cementing his status as a truly fearless and original filmmaker at a time when studios are increasingly fearful of risky business.  You’d be crazy to miss out on this slice of madness.

Peter White

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
110 mins

Seven Psychopaths, is released on 7th December 2012

Seven Psychopaths– Official Website

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvuNfq5vN-w

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Cinema Review: Rampart – Film of the Week

Weedy Harrelson

DIR: Oren Moverman • WRI: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman • PRO: Ben Foster, Lawrence Inglee, Ken Kao, Clark Peterson • DOP: Chr Bobby Bukowski • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: David Wasco • Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Bernthal

The story of Rampart is the story of corruption itself. Woody Harrelson plays ‘Date-Rape’ Dave Brown, a hard-drinking LAPD officer who lives by his own set of morals and ethics – or rather, his lack thereof. Dirty cops aren’t a particularly new topic in films. It is, however, strange for them to be front and centre in a film. That being said, it makes for an engrossing experience. Brown is embroiled in a scandal involving police brutality. Caught in the lens of the media, his life slowly begins to spiral out of his control as he attempts to put right what he perceives as an injustice dealt upon him. His methods becoming increasingly violent and extreme, culminating in a botched armed robbery that sets the story in motion.

The plot is surprisingly straightforward for a James Ellroy-penned script. This gives it a primal drive, much like Harrelson’s character – single-minded, bull-headed and utterly ruthless. Harrelson gives a performance not seen since Natural Born Killers. He is a monstrosity; lascivious and gluttonous in his pursuits of women and drugs. Much like his performance in Natural Born Killers, his character is working under the assumption that he is judge, jury and executioner – that no law will hold him. This is a topic that is not uncommon in James Ellroy’s previous work, although the distinction here is that the consequences are more prevalent and are being meted out by authority, instead of being covered by them.

The direction of the film is impressive. Oren Moverman, director of the criminally-underwatched The Messenger, uses Harrelson effectively in each scene that he’s in. The photography varies between hand-held and neon-drenched cityscapes à la Michael Mann, with a range of colours and sequences not seen in Moverman’s previous work. The supporting cast, made up of Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster and Anne Heche, are all admirable and worthy of note. Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche, particularly, are of note. Playing Harrelson’s ex-wife and sister-in-law respectively, both women are adroit at giving him a human side. Without them, he’s a one-sided fascist with no remorse of any kind. Ben Foster is almost completely unrecognisable as a homeless man who witnesses one of Harrelson’s transgressions. The film is held up and carried by Harrelson. His performance is electric and is on par with Denzel Washington’s role in Training Day. Where Rampart deviates from Training Day is that there is no upstanding police officer to balance it all. Here, everyone is equally accountable for the corruption that permeates through the system. From Sigourney Weaver’s pragmatic lawyering, telling him that ‘LA can’t afford you anymore’, to Robin Wright and her under-handed tactics at getting Harrelson on-side, it’s clear that Ellroy’s script is one that is honest in its portrayal of the realities of the modern-day legal system. Where the film falls down is its ending. The story is left unresolved and open-ended. This could be paving the way for a series of films or it could be that people like Woody Harrelson’s characters often escape justice. Either way, it’s unsatisfying – but, thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film. Rampart is a searingly detailed account of a life corrupted.
Brian Lloyd

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Rampart is released on 24th February 2012

Rampart  – Official Website

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The Messenger

DIR: Oren Moverman • WRI: Oren Moverman, Allesandro Camon • PRO: Mark Gordon, Lawrence Inglee, Zack Miller • DOP: Bobby Bukowski • ED: Alexander Hall DES: Stephen Beatrice • Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Eamonn Walker, Steve Buscemi

Very few mainstream American in the modern era seem to address the issues and lives of the working class and the disenfranchised. On the rare occasion this occurs as with David O. Russell’s recent The Fighter, the more conventional or clichéd elements of the story are brought forward somewhat at the expense of emotional authenticity and in that films case the Rocky-like narrative take away from Russell’s real achievement in depicting a gritty, lived in set of circumstances that never felt phoney despite the presence of major Hollywood stars. It had the feel of real life, messy and complicated for the most part.

With the studios backing away from material that reflects a tangible reality or deal with complex subject matter, it is left to those filmmakers working outside of the system to carry the creative torch and produce challenging and thought provoking works that portray the lives of ordinary American citizens.

One area in which the studios have backed away from slowly in the past decade is America’s involvement in Iraq and the Middle East with underwhelming box office takings for the likes of The Kingdom, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Stop Loss and more recently The Green Zone reinforcing the belief that the general public weaned on 24-hour news and media coverage of events in the region since 9/11 have no desire to see the news replicated on the big screen packaged with big name stars.

Escapism and regression into fantasy is now the default setting for big-budget filming with only Kathryn Bigelow’s independently financed and produced The Hurt Locker overcoming the Iraq/Middle East War Movie Stigma and having some cultural impact.

First time director Oren Moverman’s film The Messenger, released in 2009 seems to have had some trouble picking up a distributor on this side of the Atlantic, which is baffling considering that it received Oscar® nominations for Moverman and Camon’s original screenplay as well as for Woody Harrelson’s excellent performance.

Ben Foster portrays Will Montgomery, a young soldier who has recently arrived back from fighting in Iraq, which has left him with minor injuries and psychological trauma. Finding it difficult to readjust to civilian life, he attempts to reconnect with his long term sweetheart but he discovers that in his absence she has moved on and is now engaged to another man. With a few months left on his enlistment time, Will is assigned as an officer in the Army’s Casualty Notification department where under the guidance of the more seasoned career soldier Captain Stone (Woody Harrelson) he is given the responsibility of informing civilians of the death of their loved ones on the field of battle; an unenviable and difficult task for which he has no prior training or experience. In the course of their visits, Will comes into contact with Olivia (Samantha Morton) whose husband was recently killed in the war. He is immediately struck by her serene and forgiving nature, and a more mutual attraction grows between them; he reminds her of her husband and she represents an opportunity for nurture and security, a sense of purpose outside of his duty to the army.

Moverman uses his camera in a subtle, impressionistic way that is never heavy handed with the characters slowly revealing themselves to us as the film progresses and in snatches of behaviour that he reveals to us, for example the fact that Montgomery finds it difficult to sleep or eat properly, Stone’s compulsive womanizing masking a deep loneliness, behaviour rather than dialogue is favoured to illustrate the inner workings of these proud yet conflicted men.

This strong yet subtle directorial hand also draws out some strong performances from the talented cast who breathe full, three-dimensional life into these characters with Foster’s usually clenched acting style perfectly suited to the part but it’s his chemistry with the more loose and woolly Harrelson that really elevates the film with the latter really stealing the show with an understated mixture of bravado and understated vulnerability.

The relationship between Foster and Samantha Morton as the war widow is also sensitively played, though Morton’s American accent still isn’t quite convincing to these ears and we never get a real sense of what makes her character tick or what drives her choices. She remains somewhat ambiguous and seems to be less fleshed out than the two male leads.

The Messenger in a way recalls classic ’70s dramas such as The Last Detail or Five Easy Pieces, character pieces that used to be financed and distributed by major studios and that delved deep into a specific ambiance and corner of life with the plot driven by the characters rather than the other way around. The films approach to dealing with the subject of post-war trauma is free from sensationalism and exaggeration for contrived dramatic effect. A quietly powerful and intimate piece, The Messenger is a reminder of American independent cinema at its finest.

 

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Messenger is released on 17th June 2011

The Messenger – Official Website

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Zombieland

Zombieland_

DIR: Ruben Fleischer • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Gavin Polone • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Michael Bonvillain • DES: Maher Ahmad • CAST: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Zombieland is a new zombie horror comedy flick. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where zombies have taken the lives of many humans. The opening sequence really sets up the tone of the film; a montage of zombie killings narrated by Columbus, the film’s main protagonist. Columbus explains his rules of survival against zombies. For example rule number 17: don’t be a hero and rule number 31: check the back seat.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a friendly and quirky college student who wants to see his family in Ohio. On The road Columbus meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) Tallahassee is a suave cowboy type with an obsession for firearms and a taste for Twinkies. The two men raid a supermarket and annihilate several zombies. They find two girls; Wichita (Emma Stone), an attractive and mysterious twenty-something and her twelve year old sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who is a step ahead of the game. The two sisters con Columbus and Tallahassee into handing over their weapons and vehicle. The four characters meet again, they stay at a Hollywood mansion, get to know each other and fight together to kill the zombies right to the predictable finale.

Zombieland is a loud and tiring eighty minutes. The first twenty minutes are acceptable on its own level of dumbness with non-stop zombie killings and witless one-liners. It wears out its welcome very fast. Edgar Wright’s Shaun of The Dead (2004) is a good example of the comedy horror genre. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s script had wit, humour and gore. Zombieland just has gore. The final hour of Zombieland falls completely flat; the characters are so dull and uninteresting. The film needs more than just to references other zombie movies and spoofs. It’s a big disappointment. It would have had more potential if it had stirred away from the same sight gag in almost every scene. It is a blood fest bore in very bad taste which tries at some points to bring sentiment to its dull premise. How far down the pile of scripts did Woody Harrelson have to reach for this one?

Peter Larkin
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Zombieland
is released on 9th Oct 2009
Zombieland – Official Website

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