Irish Film Review: ‘Calm with Horses’ @ Toronto International Film Festival 2019 

 

Aoife O’Neill was at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019 and sent us on this review of Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses.

 

One of a few Irish films that closed Toronto International Film Festival this year is that of Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses; a film that was adapted by Joe Murtagh from Colin Barrett’s acclaimed collection of short stories. Calm with Horses premiered at the festival alongside an Irish Canadian co-production starring Dakota Fanning called Sweetness in the Belly, (also a book adaptation from Camilla Gibb’s book of the same name), as well as Neasa Hardiman’s film Sea Fever. It is clear that Ireland was definitely represented on the big screen in Toronto this year.

Calm with Horses tells the story of Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, an ex-boxer, who has been adopted into the deadly Devers family. Used as a muscle man, particularly by Daimhin Devers (Barry Keoghan), he is treated like a lap dog doing the violent bidding for the family and he is also kept on a very short leash. At the centre of the film is the struggle of Arm and where his loyalty lies. Is he loyal to the adopted family that ‘protects’ him or to his actual family that he must protect? At first, the audience is led to believe that Arm should be hated and is a violent thug at heart, but then, as the story unfolds, we see the person behind the brutally-violent actions.

The catalyst of this thriller-crime drama is when Arm must choose to either kill a man for the Devers or provide money for the education of his five year-old autistic son, Jack. The viewer is thrown into the action of the film almost immediately, only discovering the motives behind the actions of the characters as the story reveals itself. The brutality and unyielding wrath of the Dever family illustrates clearly, the fact, that they will stop at nothing to maintain their power in the community, even at the expense of Arm.

Violent from the get go, this film is not for the faint-hearted. After seeing this film with a Canadian audience, it was almost amusing to hear the loud gasps and shock from audience members at the most violent scenes. Not that the violence is amusing but, Canadian audiences, I have found, are very vocal when watching films in the cinema.

With a similar vibe of RTÉ’s Love/Hate, Irish viewers, I think, will enjoy this thriller. Set in  rural Ireland, Calm with Horses puts a spin on the gangland drama usually set in Irish cities. Trained eyes may recognise some of the backdrop of the Irish countryside throughout the drama (filmed in both Galway and Clare).

The slow pace of the film reflects the lifestyle of the characters and the community they inhabit; their simple survival for money and opportunity while wanting a better life. The depiction of rural Irish life is true to form, where the community knows or think they know everything about you. The isolation and judgement one feels is shown particularly well as it affects the character of Ursula, in her desire to escape the judgemental town they live in. Ursula is condemned by the community as they accuse her of giving her son Jack his medical condition.

Despite the brutal violence in the film, the story is juxtaposed with moments of calm as the title suggests. As Arm tries to bond with his son, Jack, it is clear that he has not grasped the concept of Jack’s medical condition and diagnosis, unlike Jack’s mother, Ursula. Played by Niamh Algar, Ursula provides the voice of reason to Arm, trying to release the grasp the Dever family have over him.

Headed by a heavy Irish cast including outstanding performances from Barry Keoghan and Ned Dennehy (Peaky Blinders), as well as American born actor Cosmo Javis (Lady Macbeth) taking the lead role of Arm in the film. Calm with Horses is from the DMC Film production company. The production company, founded by Michael Fassbender and Conor McCaughan, and producer Daniel Emmerson developed the project with Film4 as Nick Rowland’s feature directorial debut.

Most importantly, it was nice to have the opportunity to watch an Irish film in Toronto on the big screen being so far from home. After supporting many different world cinemas throughout the festival, such as Latin America, Spain, France, Japan, India and Africa to name but a few, it was fantastic to get to experience this film with a very packed Canadian audience excited to see Ireland represented on screen.

 

Calm with Horses had its world premiere 8th September 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival.

‎The Toronto International Film Festival 2019 took place 5–15 September 2019.

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Review: Driven

DIR: Nick Hamm • WRI: Colin Bateman DOP: Karl Walter Lindenlaub • ED: Brett M. Reed • DES: Fernando Carrion • PRO: René Besson, Brad Feinstein, Walter Josten, Luillo Ruiz • MUS: Geronimo Mercado • CAST:  Jason Sudeikis, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, Corey Stoll, Isabel Arraiza, Michael Cudlitz

Complete with its own chaotic backstory (filming in Puerto Rico being was disrupted and delayed by Hurricane Maria), this drama/comedy version of the story behind the sportscar visionary John DeLorean – and the man who brought him down – is now available to watch.

Driven begins with huckster and drug-smuggling pilot Jim Hoffman (Sudeikis) and his family being arrested. Bang to rights, Hoffman later finds himself walking his way into court as the star witness for FBI agent Benedict Tisa (Stoll) in a truly sensational case.

Switching from that court case to moments back in time, we see how Hoffman became an informer for agent Tisa and was told to target Morgan Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz), the brash, mustached drug smuggler that Hoffman swears set him up.

A few years before, Jim and Ellen (Greer) had met their new neighbors, John and Cristina DeLorean (Pace and Arraiza). DeLorean was the charismatic car designer behind the GTO muscle car, and Cristina, his charming, model wife. 

DeLorean had just launched his own, new car – the DMC-12 – and the stainless steel, gull-wing design was a smash. Celebrities lined up to invest, and Jim was drawn into DeLorean’s world as a kind of uneasy confidante/gopher. Ellen is less than convinced however; she thinks the smooth DeLorean is a fraud. 

Sure enough, DeLorean’s new car company starts to fall apart at the seams. Jim realizes it’s happening, but still wants to be part of the hip gang that’s all parties and champagne. Then DeLorean, in need of big cash quick, asks Hoffman for some real help – and it involves Morgan and his white marching powder.

Or does it? As Hoffman is grilled in court while DeLorean stares at him from the defendant’s table, a vital question hangs in the air. Did a desperate DeLorean suggest the scam to save the company and the jobs of the 2000 workers at the Belfast factory, or was it the eager-to-please Hoffman trying to finally be useful to his next-door hero? 

The story of DeLorean and his famous – but short-lived car – has been well-documented elsewhere, and doubtless much artistic license has been taken with what happened in this screenplay.

Billed as a drama/thriller, Driven also has many comic moments – probably due in part to the participation of former “SNL” favorite Sudeikis, who is perhaps rather miscast as the lead here. 

Hoffman was doubtless necessarily a likeable conman, but with Sudeikis’ perpetual wide eyes and twinkly smirks – and a ’70s mustache Hoffman actually didn’t have – it never seems like he’s more than a bit of a hapless jester.

Sudeikis certainly comes a poor second to the excellent Greer in terms of the dramatic moments, and then there’s Pace. With his almost-hypnotic voice and ice cool demeanor, you can see how people might follow him through the flames.

There aren’t really any big stakes for protagonist Hoffman either.  We know what DeLorean has at stake of course, but aside from Tisa’s constant threats of prison and no revenge from the spitting-mad Morgan, what does Hoffman really lose? Even the spitfire Ellen comes back after leaving him for a moment after she learns he’s a lying, long-term informer.

The comic tone sits rather uneasily with this limited drama, and you wonder if going more blackly comic might have made this more engaging. As it is, this is mildly entertaining but largely forgettable, with the emotional moments that Jim and John share seeming forced rather than genuine friendship. 

Who knows if that’s what they had, as Hoffman disappeared into Witness Protection after the trial and DeLorean lived until 2005, his car living on long after people forgot he was a real person (and that the car wasn’t just a time machine created for Back to the Future).

Ironically – and perhaps perfectly – John DeLorean was in fact close to basing his factory in Puerto Rico, not Belfast, before he pulled out of the deal at the last minute. Guess which place offered more cash subsidies?   

Either way, it’s certainly worth pointing out that this movie comes from Northern Irish talent. Director Nick Hamm was born in Belfast, and screenwriter Colin Bateman is from Bangor in County Down, some seven miles away. 

Driven also had a prime spot closing last year’s Venice Film Festival, but seemed to be clinging on to the coat-tails of the superior Alec Baldwin-starring Framing John DeLorean, which came out earlier this year.

It’s a pity that the extraordinary DeLorean story hasn’t made a really effective transition to the silver screen yet, though the rumored George Clooney project might well blow it all out of the water. 

DeLorean would certainly have appreciated being played by a genuine star. 

 James Bartlett

148′ 
R

Driven is available on Amazon Prime 1st November 2019.

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Review: Doctor Sleep

DIR/WRI: Mike Flanagan • DOP: Michael Fimognari • ED: Mike Flanagan • DES: Maher Ahmad, Patricio M. Farrell• PRO: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy • MUS: The Newton Brothers • CAST: Rebecca Ferguson, Ewan McGregor, Jacob Tremblay, Kyliegh Curran

 

Almost forty years have passed since the infamous events in the Overlook Hotel occurred and the Torrance family were tormented in Stephen King’s The Shining.  This iconic psychological-horror was adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1980 and was notoriously disliked by King. Doctor Sleep acts as a sequel and follows Danny Torrance, played by Ewan McGregor, dealing with the post-traumatic effects of that harrowing night in Colorado. 

The audience is reintroduced to the gifted Danny, where The Shining left off, as a little boy with his mother, Wendy. Danny, still plagued by the ghosts of his past, is taught how to hone his Shine abilities by the apparition of his old mentor and friend Dick Hallorann. This nostalgically eases the viewer into the new storyline as we are brought back to the now grown-up Danny, dealing with a drinking problem, and searching for solace in a small town in New Hampshire.

During this time we are introduced to both the young heroine of the story Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran, and the villainous Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Both these characters and Dan become inextricably linked as the plot unfolds and Dan must face his past in order to protect Abra. 

Both director and writer Mike Flanagan not only had the task of establishing this film within the repertoire of cinematic classics adapted from King’s works, but also to follow the act of  Stanley Kubrick. In this regard, Flanagan produced a film that was not only its own enjoyable and independent narrative, but also fleshes out and brings light to the mysterious King universe in which The Shining  resides; and answers forty-year old questions. The shining ability conveyed in Kubrick’s original was always secondary to the psychological terror, however Doctor Sleep focuses heavily on these ethereal gifts of the main characters, while staying true to the stylistic horror of its predecessor.

Flanagan meticulously recreates renowned longshots of lonesome cars driving through the night and reintroduces the ominous score by the Newton Brothers. The film also demonstrates the marvel of what CGI and camera magic can do, when characters on-screen in 1980 appear as they were decades later in 2019.

This being said, whilst Flanagan has filled every nook and cranny with a nostalgic reference, Doctor Sleep by no means piggybacks off of the success of The Shining. Ewan McGregor, as likeable as ever, brilliantly carries on the Torrence story, but acts as a great accompaniment to the new story of Rose the Hat and Abra Stone. Rose the Hat brings the terror to this story as a leader of an occult group of child killers. Searching for children who project similar shine abilities to Dan. This leads to scenes of an extremely violent nature featuring some promising child actors such as Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House) and Jacob Tremblay (Room). Although Tremblay has a brief scene, his capabilities shine through in his participation in one of the more gruesome showings of gore and terror to date. This unfortunately undermines the performance of Kyleigh Curran as the leading girl, who becomes of less interest as the plot comes to a conclusion.

The film does unfortunately start in a rather staccato manner jumping between storylines and toward the end loses traction as the pace of the film quickens quite abruptly. This leads the film to prioritise Danny and his past over Abra and Rose, who become secondary characters in the final act of the film.  Other elements conspire to break the reality, such as Rebecca Ferguson’s rather peculiar Irish accent breaking through in certain scenes, estranged from her cross-atlantic Hollywood voice the viewer knows from the start of the film.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is not only a respectable sequel to a classic but is a great movie in its own right. Not for the faint-hearted, this film is one for fans showing Mike Flanagan’s appreciation for what the cult following of The Shining needed whilst also creating a unique and atmospheric horror to hold its own within the genre.

 

Tiernan Allen

150′ 48″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Doctor Sleep is released 31st October 2019

Doctor Sleep – Official Website

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Review: Western Stars

 

DIR: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimmy

Following the Emmy award-winning success of ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ the duo of Thom Zimmy and Bruce Springsteen set off on their next project to create the film Western Stars. The Boss, now 70 years of age, decided not to tour his recent 13-song album of the same name as the concert film, but instead to explore through a cinematic lens the inner workings and inspirations that went on behind the scenes in producing the music of  ‘Western Stars’.

The film is set from within Springsteen’s 100-year-old horse barn, turned concert hall, on his and his wife Patti Scialfa’s ranch in New Jersey. The barn itself acts as a spiritual Mecca of inspiration to Springsteen, creating a setting that exudes authenticity. Followed by the meticulous lighting surrounding the exclusively selected patrons of the concert, Joe DeSalvo. the cinematographer and the cameramen, maintains the aura of an intimate venue where the viewer almost feels the need to clap along with the audience as Springsteen transitions from song to song.

Accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra and Scialfa on stage, Springsteen chronologically performs the album and creates this marvellous dichotomy between the eloquence of the orchestral strings and the rustic acoustics of his classic sound. Each song is followed by an interlude in which Springsteen shares his personal memoirs and archival footage from his own life, all in explanation surrounding the song at hand and the reasoning behind it. This formula unfolds for all 13 songs up until the finale where Springsteen indulges both the physical and cinematic audience with an all-time classic.

Thom Zimmy’s directional approach preaches simplicity, which complements the film enormously and reaffirms the purpose in giving this intimate concert to the world through film. The performance and progression of the film is paced like a symphony and Springsteen’s original score takes us subtly from one song to another behind his explanatory monologue. However, the manufactured footage shot for these intermissions between songs, at times, comes across as cliched and repetitive. Such as, the hero shot of Springsteen walking a horse down a stable or driving aimlessly into the sunset in his El Camino. These shots are usually narrated over with rather pious philosophical insights that Springsteen has seemingly come to in his older age. Although these qualities are redeemed in a sense by the nostalgic family footage shared with the audience, giving a greater sense of both Bruce and Patti’s relationship and the events and emotions that predetermined the eventual composing of ‘Western Stars’.

Another disappointing feature Zimmy and Springsteen fail to capture is the raw unadulterated Springsteen and his interactions with the audience and the crew. The film portrays the concert in such a coordinated way that instead of feeling like a member of the audience watching Springsteen live, the viewer is very aware of the fact that they are watching an edited version of Bruce’s performance. 

Overall, through Springsteen’s ode to past lovers and metaphorical stuntmen, the complexities of this album are illustrated beautifully through both the stylistic approach Zimmy takes in directing this film and the level of insight Springsteen grants the audience into his life and emotions that inspired this work.

In the end the film Western Stars comes across as less of an old cowboy’s endeavour into lowbrow philosophical preachings, as it does a homage to the life he led and the love he felt that allowed for this album to come to fruition. A captivating musical experience brought to the screen that expresses both the nature of Bruce Springsteen and the meaning behind his album ‘Western Stars’.

Tiernan Allen

 

82′ 58″
G (see IFCO for details)

Western Stars is released 28th October 2019

Western Stars – Official Website

 

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Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

DIR: Tim Miller  • WRI: Jill Culton • DOP: Robert Edward Crawford • ED: Susan Fitzer • DES: Max Boas • PRO: James Cameron, David Ellison • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta

Franchise fatigue is a term that can easily be applied to the Terminator franchise. The 1984 and 1991 films were met with critical and commercial acclaim and the opposite can be said for the three films that have been produced since. The highlight of the three films released post-1991 is the leaked footage of Christian Bale lambasting a crewmember whilst filming 2009’s Terminator Salvation. A sequel was planned for 2015’s Terminator Genisys but was sensibly shelved after poor box-office returns, despite a huge return from Chinese cinemas, and the franchise seemed destined to continue in remasterings of the original two films. 

However, studio executives are not prepared to retire Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poor old T-800 robot and James Cameron has decided to direct some of his focus away from the thousand Avatar sequels to co-produce a new Terminator film billed as a direct sequel to events from ‘his’ films; retconning events from the films without his involvement. With Deadpool director Tim Miller at the helm, Terminator: Dark Fate is the latest and sixth instalment featuring the return of Arnie, and more significantly, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. 

Dark Fate follows the standard Terminator framework of a robot sent from the future to kill the future leader of the human resistance. Of course, a benevolent robot to humans is sent back in time to terminate the enemy and prevent the malevolent rise of technological warfare and advanced artificial intelligence against humans. In this film, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is a regular woman living in Mexico when her life is altered by the arrival of a future robot – later described as a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – who is determined to kill her. Although, surprising only to Terminator newcomers, another robot from the future has also arrived to protect Dani and ensure her survival. The regular pattern is skewed here when we discover that this robot is called Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and is instead a human retrofitted with a form of A.I. Grace and Dani attempt to evade the Rev-9 but require the assistance from two familiar faces and Terminator killers in Sarah Connor and the T-800.

Much like recent franchise reboots, Dark Fate’s narrative riffs off its origins and becomes a nostalgic retelling of a story audiences know and admire. With the character of Dani Ramos – essentially a substitute for Sarah Connor in The Terminator – Dani connects us with the past and is a narrative familiar link. Although, Dark Fate manages to convince that it’s not simply a nostalgia fest and creates a narrative that can be driven by new strong female characters such as Grace and Dani. It’s also telling that Arnold Schwarzenegger does not appear on screen as quickly as you’d think and the new and returning female characters are driving the plot by themselves. 

The first sequence from the film is a spoiler that does change the outlook of what to expect if you’ve seen previous instalments. Yet, Dark Fate is a hugely-enjoyable two hours of cinema. The CGI has progressed so much that audiences are not as shocked by standards set by, for example, Robert Patrick’s menacing T-1000 in Judgment Day, but the action sequences are impressive. They’re just missing some of the visceral grit and physicality in the first two films. Mackenzie Davis is also terrific as Grace and her performance inhabits both the vulnerability of Sarah Connor in The Terminator and Sarah’s scarred determination in Judgment Day. Davis, alongside Reyes and Gabriel Luna, allows the narrative to remain engaging and the flashforwards to Grace’s post-apocalyptic future are reminiscent of Terminator Salvation; serving as to what’s at stake if Dani dies. 

Schwarzenegger is back to his robotic best living a new sentient life as a draper called Carl before he’s called back to what he knows best. More importantly, Linda Hamilton returning to the role of Sarah Connor is what the franchise sorely needed. Her character has evolved from a naive girl to a war-hardened woman out for revenge, even with her “own episode of America’s Most Wanted”. Akin to Laurie Strode in 2018’s Halloween, Sarah Connor’s modus operandi is killing terminators and that’s what her life has become. It consumes her and it takes an actor like Linda Hamilton to characterise this consumption so poignantly. 

There are also not so subtle contemporary allegories regarding Mexican immigration, gun laws, digital surveillance, and the human fear of A.I. They do, however, fit within the narrative and assist in what is easily a credible sequel to the events of Cameron’s films. The fear is that audiences will not invest their time in seeing this after regular disappointments. Dark Fate is reliant upon what we’ve already seen but it feels fresh despite its nostalgic moments rekindling appreciation for and awareness of The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day. 

It was never going to be as remarkable as the original two films, but Dark Fate provides us with a new female action hero in the form of Grace and also allows Sarah Connor to return and be revered again. Linda Hamilton returning is worth the admission price alone.  

Liam Hanlon

 

128′ 3″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Terminator: Dark Fate is released 23rd October 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate – Official Website

 

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Review: Bait

 

DIR/WRI/DOP/ED: Mark Jenkin • DES: Mae Voogd • PRO: Kate Byers, Linn Waite • MUS: Mark Jenkin• DES: Sam Hobbs • CAST:  Morgan Val Baker, Georgia Ellery, Martin Ellis

Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple in your movie. Not every film needs to have a hero on a race against time to save the world before it’s too late. Nor does it need to have a romance for the ages. Cinema is often at its finest when it strips away all the Hollywood themes to tell real stories. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a real story must be about a famous person’s life, based on the number of biopics that are being released lately. Every so often a film sneaks up that tells the story about real-life issues. Issues that don’t have to be relatable to every single viewer. Bait is set in a small fishing town in Cornwall that is brimming with tension due to tourism taking over everyday life. It’s a story that is simple, low-key and real. Yet, this is a film that is not only the best of the year but perhaps one of the best this decade has provided.

If you’ve ever lived in a rural area you’ve met every single character in Bait. Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) is a small-time fisherman dreaming of gathering the funds to buy his own boat. His brother Steven (Giles King) hasn’t ever managed to move on from their mother’s death, the brothers are at odds on what is best for their family. Do you do what you love and struggle to afford everyday life or do you work a job that is against everything you stand for? To add to the brother’s conflict, Steven’s son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) has agreed to work with his uncle in an act of defiance against his father. As summer and the tourists roll in, a family that is the opposite to the Wards take their annual residency in the Ward’s childhood home. 

The Leighs have everything that the Ward’s have lost;  money, togetherness and, most importantly, security for their future. Sandra (Mary Woodvine) and Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd) are together possibly only because of their wealth. Sandra may be in a position of high status but she is never cold or unforgiven, meanwhile her husband is in one scene described as “a prancing lycra c**t”. Their children are always at odds with each other. Katie (Georgia Ellery) strives in her summer habitat where she makes friends and falls in love, her younger brother is a snivelling coward, who is beat for beat like his father. Every single character in this Cornish town resembles a real rural community. Bar Owner Liz (Stacy Guthrie) knows every single piece of gossip that oozes from the town. Wenna (Chloe Endean) is a rebellious teen who is determined to live a carefree life. There are no heroes in Bait. Every single character has their own unique flaws. No one on this planet is the epitome of perfection. Bait, in the characters it showcases and the way is presented, puts all out on the table for the world to see. 

Every single aspect of this film comes from the mind of Mark Jenkin. Jenkin is the director, writer, composer, editor, and cinematographer of Bait. It’s hard to determine which one of the jobs he took is executed better. Jenkin’s direction is that of a madman. Scenes from different stages of the film are intercut to add a sense of dread to the plot. Characters will be undergoing a simple task like fishing with intense flashes of hands being put into handcuffs. Separate conversations will intertwine with no coherent reason as to why. It shouldn’t work at all. Yet Jenkin doesn’t want to stray away from his insane vision. Bait is an angry film made by a man who is clearly angry about how rural communities are being given no resources for locals to survive. Traditions can’t stay alive if the only way of earning money is to modernise your town. Filmed in black and white on a 16mm camera, the film feels akin to a 1920s picture. The vintage camera that Jenkin used to shoot the film makes the already unique film, unlike anything you’ve seen on screen before. The future of rural communities may be uncertain at this moment in time, but one thing is for sure. Mark Jenkin is here to make films that contain messages that need to be heard in films that are nothing short of groundbreaking. 

Bait is a flawless film. You’ll feel as if you witnessed a classic as the credits begin to roll. Featuring a cast that most audiences, myself included, have never heard of in their lives, the films leading man, Edward Rowe, deserves endless plaudits for his truly special work in this film. For a cast with minimal acting experience, the work they do in Bait is phenomenal. When a group of people come together to make a film that demands to be seen with a director who doesn’t know what the easy route is, something truly special can be made. Bait will remind you why we all love cinema.

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

88′ 56″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Bait is released 30th August 2019

Bait  – Official Website

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Review: Little Monsters

DIR/WRI: Abe Forsythe • DOP: Lachlan Milne • ED: Jim May, Drew Thompson • DES: Jeff Sherriff • PRO: Jessica Calder, Keith Calder, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea • MUS: Piers Burbrook de Vere • DES: Sam Hobbs • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Stephen Peacocke

 

Just when you think the zombie comedy genre is dead or is that undead?. Following hot on the heels of the vacuous zombie comedy, Zombieland, Double Tap, comes the zombie comedy, Little Monsters an Aussie undead effort more in keeping with Shaun of the Dead. Sharing a similar feckless protagonist and good old fashioned slow-moving zombie types. What it doesn’t have is that film’s cleverness or humour.

Alexander England plays Dave, a busker, and by the end of the opening credits a single man; having spent the opening credits montage warring with his girlfriend for reasons that are explained later in the film but won’t be explained here. Soon he is burdening his hardworking, single sister and her gluten-intolerant, five-year-old son, Felix, who thinks Dave is great. The selfish, obnoxious Dave has to bring Felix to school and whilst there he falls in lust with Felix’s teacher Miss Caroline, played by Lupita Nyong’o, a sweet and diligent kindergarten teacher adored by her pupils. 

Before you can shake a koala off a eucalyptus branch, Dave is volunteering to be a chaperone for his nephew and classmates on an excursion to Pleasant Valley, a petting zoo type affair. Soon the local American army base has lost their resident zombies and Pleasant Valley is awash with the undead. Miss Caroline and Dave must step up to the mark and make sure no fatalities arise amongst their charges. You can see where this is going.  What better way for Dave to lose his obnoxious attitude and get the girl, than by getting dropped into the heart of a zombie epidemic scenario?  

Unfortunately Little Monsters doesn’t have as much to offer as one might hope for.  After setting its stakes high with the notion of safeguarding children and fighting off zombies, it doesn’t go anywhere interesting with the idea.  In fact, it pretty much does what’s expected. The main thrust of humour is bold-boy verbiage, which feels tired and potty-mouthed. On the plus side, I have to say I marvelled at the performances from the school children, especially from Diesel Torraca as Felix. The adults, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Lupita Nyong’o has very little to do despite being the main selling point marketing-wise and Josh Gad doesn’t have much to do other than be more obnoxious than Alexander England so we can see his transformation a little better.

It’s not a dead loss, or should I say undead loss, and the Halloween season mood might make audiences a bit more forgiving.

 

Paul Farren

@PaulFarrenA

93′ 52″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Little Monsters is released 15th November 2019

Little Monsters – Official Website

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Irish Film Review: Dark Lies the Island

DIR: Ian Fitzgibbon • WRI: Kevin Barry • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Stephen O’Connell • DES: Jeff Sherriff • PRO: Michael Garland • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Peter Coonan, Moe Dunford, Charlie Murphy, Pat Shortt, Jana Moheiden

Dark Lies the Island is about a doomed love-rectangle in a small Irish town. Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt) has the run of the place in Dromord. Every other business in town is a Mannion enterprise. But as his two sons (Moe Dunford and Peter Coonan) become jealous of his money and young wife Sara (Charlie Murphy), can the Mannions escape with their dignity intact? Inspired by characters from Kevin Barry’s short-story collection by the same name, Dark Lies the Island is a film about desperation and loneliness in a town that has a hold over all the characters.

Daddy Mannion may be the success of the town, but his personal life leaves much to be desired. His wife Sara, twenty years his junior, is bored sick at home with an atypical teenage daughter, played brilliantly by Jana Moheiden. Sara will do anything to punish Daddy for keeping her trapped in Dromord. To make matters worse, Daddy has two grown sons from his first marriage: failed businessman, Martin (Moe Dunford) and a recluse who runs shady businesses from his shack in the woods, Doggie (Peter Coonan). 

Most of the characters are desperate to get out of Dromord but do nothing to leave. Circumstances like debt, marriage, family business or agoraphobia keep people there, drive people to madness, and send them to the bottom of the lake. The irony of Doggie’s situation is highlighted when he says “I can leave whenever I want” but hasn’t set foot outside his shack in years. The feeling of being trapped is emphasised by cinematographer Cathal Watters, as he frames the characters in lots of close-ups, contrasting the expansive scenery outside. 

Something magical hangs over the film, as though Dromord has abstained from the rules of reality. The whole 90-minutes you’re waiting for the worst to happen to the Mannions, but you feel like absolutely anything could happen. The score by Stephen Rennicks (Room, Frank) enhances the mood – dark and playful at the same time, balancing light and dark.

I really wanted to like it more than I did. I’m a big Kevin Barry fan, so I was interested in seeing how Fitzgibbon would manage it. Barry has such a distinctive style that sadly didn’t translate to the screen. The magic of Kevin Barry is he puts you in someone’s head and makes you believe you’re there. But in the film, the focus shifts between so many different characters that it feels like a diluted version of his work. Barry perfectly balances humour and darkness in his short stories, and I’m not sure anyone can do him justice. 

With solid performances and gorgeous cinematography, it’s a shame the film doesn’t live up to the book. Barry’s tone is a hard one to pin down so I think audiences might have a hard time knowing how to feel. 

Aoife O’Ceallachain

87′ 

Dark Lies the Island  is released 18th October 2019

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