Review: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood 

DIR/WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: Barbara Ling • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood marks Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature film. It’s his self-confessed lament for the halcyon days of Hollywood, and the promise of a golden age that came and went, and the sadness born from that loss. We’re shot back in time by one of cinema’s defining auteurs, straight into the sun-soaked bliss of 1969, on a ride through the valley of dolls, dreams, and celebrity. But in the land of milk, honey and a thousand dances, nothing is what it seems. It’s a world of high flyers, low flyers and no flyers as we cruise through the tiered social strata of Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time… mainly follows faded and jaded TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio), a middle-aged actor passed his prime who never quite blossomed into a star. Rick’s big break was ‘The Fourteen fists of McCluskey‘, a feisty war picture that should have catapulted him to the stars but fell short. That said, Ricks no one-trick pony, he’s currently the star of TV western ‘Bounty Law‘, where he plays righteous lawman and purveyor of justice Jake Cahill. Between takes and beers, Ricks usually cruising with his best friend Cliff Booth(Brad Pitt). Cliff is Rick’s stunt double on ‘Bounty Law‘, and in his own words he’s just there “to carry the load.” Cliff is a warrior spirit, a weapon of a man, and a World War II veteran at that. But underneath his herculean physique and charming smile is a zen-like temperament, he’s a man accepting of his lot, which doesn’t amount to more than a dog, a trailer and a lingering rumour that he killed his wife. But make no mistake Cliff and Rick’s friendship is the driving force of the film, catapulting it forward scene by scene, pound for pound.  Cliff keeps Rick’s spirit in check as he grabbles with his failures as an actor. Of course, matters aren’t helped by the fact that Hollywood royalty and emblems of success Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski are living next door; or that Manson hippie chicks are floating around the streets like sirens, trouble can’t be far.

Quentin’s vision for Once Upon a Time… is brought to the screen by regular collaborator cinematographer Robert Richardson. The cinematography is a dynamic dance somewhere between naturalism and sheer cinematic spectacle, envigorating late ’60s Hollywood with a raw earthy freshness. Richardson’s finely tuned eye and magnanimous lighting lend a painterly quality to every composition that can’t be argued with. Of course, then there’s the soundtrack. And as to be expected, it’s sonic gold for the eardrums, with some timely oldies and some less familiar ones to boot.

Brad Pitt gives a muscular and affectionate performance as Cliff Booth, lighting up the screen with smoking cool ’60s charm. Leonardo Di Caprio gives a masterful turn as wild west thespian Rick Dalton, unleashing a six-shooter’s worth of despair mixed in with a tablespoon of comic gold. Margot Robbie’s take on Sharon Tate is set to be the definitive cinematic realization; Robbie brings a candid naturalism and fiery vitality to her every movement. The main cast is accompanied by an ensemble of players fit to die for, with the likes of Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, and Margaret Qualley.

Throughout Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, there’s a pervading tone of melancholy. Tarantino’s portrayal of Hollywood pierces through the thin veneer of LA glitz and glamour, in search of characters caught in an existential trap, and who can’t get out. This is Tarantino at his most mature since ‘Jackie Browne’, underneath its golden facade Once Upon a Time… is an expertly crafted meditation on the loss of the dreams of a generation. Tarantino’s film is a potent love letter to the end of an era in Cinema and history, and at its core it’s equally embedded in the present. The Tate/ La Bianca murders were a fulcrum in space and time, a catastrophic turning point that ended the ’60s, shattering free love and the hippie dream forever. It was a singular moment that was a precursor of everything to come, the toxic wave of ’70s paranoia and uncertainty, when a country was brought to its knees and an empire broke. Ultimately ,Tarantino taps into the electric vibrations that tingled in the air in ’69, there’s a lingering sense in every scene that things are coming to a close, its a sun-soaked funeral procession for all, and it ends with a bang that will reverberate throughout cinematic history.

Michael Lee

161′ 17″
18 (see IFCO for details)

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is released 14th August 2019

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – Official Website

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Review: Blinded by the Light

DIR: Gurinder Chadha • WRI: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor • PRO: Jane Barclay, Paul Mayeda Berges, Jamal Daniel • DOP: Ben Smithard • ED:  Justin Krish • DES: Nick Ellis • MUS: A.R. Rahman • CAST: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nell Williams, Rob Brydon and Hayley Atwell

It is not a mystery that Bruce Springsteen has a loyal and avid following. If this is news to you, check out the 2013 documentary Springsteen and I, or better yet go to one of his concerts. Springsteen means different things to different people, but every fanatic will attest that Springsteen represents truth, or at least the search for one. Gurinder Chadha’s new film Blinded by the Light (named after the first song on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park) is a celebration, not only of Springsteen’s music, but of individualism. Written by Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha and Sarfraz Manzoor, the message, like a lot of Springsteen’s work is not only to go out and live your life, but to go out and grab it by the balls, no matter who you are, or where you are from. 

There are a lot of correlations between Chadha’s film and Springsteen’s music. One being that if it doesn’t pull you in from the start, I can only imagine that one might see it as a facile attempt to exploit his music. But if it grabs you, like it did this reviewer, you’ll be all in. Blinded by the Light tells the story of a young Pakistani teenager, Javed (Kalra), growing up (pardon the pun) in Luton in the late 1980s. Thatcher, The National Front and a conservative father form a three-pronged repressive force to this aspiring writer. He has a best friend, Matt (Chapman), who listens to The Pet Shop Boys and believes that ‘synths are the future’ (he is not far wrong). However, it is a new friend Roops (Phagura), a Springsteen obsessive who loans Javed Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town. He sticks them in his Walkman and his life is changed forever.

The formula of the film is a predictable one. In fact, it follows the same beats as Chadha’s 2002 film Bend it Like Beckham (replace David Beckham and football with Springsteen and writing). Yet the raw emotion that accompanies Springsteen’s music and lyrics elevates this film and becomes its heart and soul. To be fair to Chadha, she is also not afraid to veer into more adult themes than she has before. Montages of Thatcher’s Britain, job centres and National Front marches recall the work of Shane Meadows as she ups the ante on racist themes she has alluded to in previous films. Some sequences are frighteningly current. She, like Springsteen, can mix darkness with hope. 

Blinded by the Light joins the present wave of musical films, some good, Rocketman, and some bad Bohemian Rhapsody, Yesterday. Blinded by the Light falls into the former category, while systematic, its fantastical elements and musical numbers are enough to sweep you along, outweighing and disavowing otherwise predictable storytelling. 

Tom Crowley

117′ 11″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Blinded by the Light is released 9th August 2019

Blinded by the Light – Official Website

 

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Review: The Angry Birds Movie 2

DIR: Thurop Van Orman • WRI: Peter Ackerman  • DOP: Simon Dunsdon • ED: Kent Beyda, Ally Garrett • DES: Pete Oswald • PRO: John Cohen • MUS: Heitor Pereira • CAST: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader. 

Video games movies never make it past the first film. Over the years we’ve seen them nearly all die at the first level. Max Payne, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Need for Speed, Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider (2018) and two separate Hitman movies all came and went without anyone caring. For those who happened to catch these films, presumably playing in the background on a Sunday evening, we’re treated to boring films that spent their runtimes pandering to video game fans who deserved better. Outside of Mila Jovovich carrying Resident Evil to six films and Ryan Reynolds turning Pikachu into Deadpool, video game movies have been a genre with little success. Of all the games in the world that could have been a surprise hit, no one expected it to be one based on the Rovio Entertainment puzzle video game.

The Angry Birds Movie arrived in 2016 to claim the throne of the best video game movie ever made. Was it good? It was fine but you’ve got to remember that everything that came before it ranged from mediocre to atrocious. Can the Angry Birds unite to become the best video game movie sequel of all time? The answer to that is a resounding yes as its mere existence tops everything else that came before. 

The Angry Birds Movie 2 continues the story of our angry hero Red (Jason Sudeikis) and the rest of the flock. Following their triumphant victory over the Pigs in the previous film, Red is no longer an outcast. Red’s newfound sense of acceptance and the fame that comes with it is threatened when new foe Zeta (played by SNL’s Leslie Jones) makes her presence known. The birds must do the unthinkable and team up with the dastardly pigs before it’s too late.

What struck me most about this film is how in terms of plot it’s as basic as it comes. There are no major twists or obstacles that get in our heroes’ way from start to finish. Normally this would be the point in the review where I’d lay into another animated film that exists to distract its younger audiences with flashy colours for an hour and a half. This rant can’t be made against The Angry Birds Movie 2. The film relies on its characters and witty humour to entertain both adults and children. The jokes come at a relentless pace.  There’s no time to rue the ones that don’t land because the follow up will wipe the poor one out of your memory instantly. It’s admirable that the film chooses to focus on humour rather than plot. No one is going to an Angry Birds sequel for a story on par with The Dark Knight.

As with every kid’s film, there’s a lesson; a lesson of self-acceptance is essential for any kids or adults to learn. From a technical perspective, the animation feels exotic, it’s neither photo-realistic or cheaply made. It’s as if a wacky Sunday morning cartoon from the ’90s has been remastered.

The film ticks thanks to its leading cast. With a lot of animated films that aren’t Disney or DreamWorks it often feels that the cast is doing it for a paycheck. The leading cast members clearly had a great time making the film. Jason Sudeikis as Red is an unorthodox straight man, never afraid to deliver a killer joke despite being the rational member of the group. Danny McBride makes his, at first glance, one-note character work for a second film without ever becoming annoying. If you think Olaf from Frozen is annoying, you haven’t seen anything until you see Josh Gad as Chuck. The speedster bird is Olaf dialed up to the max. Whenever he was on screen, I could feel my blood boil. Leader of the pigs, Leonard, lets Bill Hader be Bill Hader, which is always welcome. Hader is the star of the show in most of his projects and here is no different. Sterling K Brown and Tiffany Hadish both turn their miniature roles into highlights. The two biggest new roles in the film are given to Rachel Bloom and Leslie Jones. Bloom plays Silver, an engineer who rivals Red for leadership. Bloom and Sudeikis’ chemistry make an almost forced romance feel genuine. Following the end of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend get ready to see a lot more of Bloom who is going to blow up. Leslie Jones finally finds a film that knows how to utilize her talents. Ghostbusters (2016) should have been the actor’s big break but she was held back by a limp script. Jones as the villain Zeta is hysterical; the comedian is given free rein to go wild with her character leading to the audience rooting for the villain.  It’s always refreshing to have a voice cast who want to act.

Directors of the first film, Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, have opted not to return for the sequel. Sony has opted to give first-time director Thurop Van Orman a shot at directing a feature. Van Orman is no stranger to animation having written episodes of The Powerpuff Girls and creating The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack. Animated movies often feel different from the cartons we see on TV. Animated movies at times feel like they give up after they come up with their concept. While cartoons on TV aren’t afraid to embrace their weirdness. Thurop has clearly set out to make a film that is one of the more cartoonish you’ll see on the big screen. The oddness of the film makes it fresh as it never takes itself seriously.

A side plot involving baby birds would normally be released as a short film, Thurop sees no reason as to why his film can’t have a separate story that is as entertaining as his main plot. This wise decision was almost certainly from the mind of writer Peter Ackerman who previously wrote the first Ice Age film, in which Scrat, a character with no impact on the plot, became the series’ most famous character. The film’s only glaring fault is that it throws in references for the sake of it. The final act of the film crams in as many popular songs as possible for no particular reason.  No one on this planet ever wanted to hear the “Baby Shark” song in a film. 

The Angry Birds Movie 2 had no right being this entertaining. Not one person seeing this film expected it to be the best video game movie of all time. Yet against all the odds it is. It never takes itself seriously, its primary goal is to entertain. Had you no clue about what Angry Birds is, you would never even notice that this is a video game movie. The lesson to be learned here is that when making a video game movie, ignore the video game part and stick to making a movie. If it’s half as much fun as this one you’ve succeeded. Never in my life did I expect me to be clamoring at the prospect of a third film based off an app. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

96′ 40″
G (see IFCO for details)

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is released 2nd August 2019

The Angry Birds Movie 2 – Official Website

 


 

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

 

DIR: David Leitch  WRI: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce • PRO:Hiram Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, Chris Morgan, Jason Statham • DOP: Jonathan Sela • DES: David Scheunemann • MUS: Tyler Bates • CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Has there ever been a franchise as odd as The Fast & Furious? From its humble beginnings as a Point Break rip-off to becoming the biggest non-superhero series in the world, nothing about the series makes sense. The first sequel that starred Vin Diesel didn’t arrive until the 4th film. The titles for each entry in the series haven’t followed a pattern; for example, the 7th film is called Furious 7 while the 8th film is called The Fate of the Furious. The series has been mocked by movie buffs for being nightmare fuel. Granted, the series hasn’t delivered an all-out amazing film,  it has come agonisingly close to delivering a film worthy of all the hype. Fast Five’s bank vault heist in Rio is glorious. The tribute to the late Paul Walker in Furious 7 is one of the most sincerely beautiful moments in cinema history. When The Fast & Furious movies want to be more than explosions and exploiting its female characters it strives. Even though the first film arrived 18 years ago it feels like The Fast & Furious franchise is only getting started. Hobbs & Shaw marks the series’ first foray into spinoffs. Can ‘The Rock’ and ‘The Stath’ team up to deliver a film worth toasting a cold Corona to? Or is this a sign that the wheels are beginning to come off?

Hobbs & Shaw tells the story of, surprisingly enough Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham). The dynamic duo must put aside their differences, which, for the record, they already put behind them in the last film, in order to take down Brixton (Idris Elba) before he releases a deadly virus into the air changing the course of humanity forever. For a series that started with an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a group of street racers, you can’t help but feel giddy reading the plot synopsis. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham teaming up to battle an evil Idris Elba with superpowers is the film 2019 has been calling out for. Hobbs & Shaw is a welcome break from the relentless car action that the series is famed for. While, yes, there are still ridiculous chases, it takes a backseat in favour of more choreographed action. It’s refreshing to see Johnson and Statham use their action-movie experience instead of sticking them behind a car for 2 hours.  The duo bounce off each other with ease,;the film could have been 2 hours of them trading ribs and it would have been glorious. The film may rely on a MacGuffin like the rest of the series, but this never feels like a generic action film. What could have easily been a chase for a bottle of the superhero serum is avoided when Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with it in the opening sequence. The dependency on the theme of family doesn’t feel forced for the first time in the series. The Shaws are clearly a tight-knit group who are always conjuring a plan, while Hobbs Samoan heritage is explored to its full potential. Those who turn their nose up at the film because it’s a Fast and Furious film are missing out on a film that is a thrill from start to finish. When the action and humour are this strong you need to put your hands up and applaud the boldness of a film which could have easily been a cash-grab. 

Hobbs & Shaw is a success thanks to the men playing the titular characters. While, together they are electric, it’s important to highlight the importance of their individuality. Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs is the straighter of the 2 leads. Hobbs is a man who has always been presented as the ideal father, to see his strained relationship with his family outside of his daughter allows the character to feel ordinary and less perfect. Johnson is as charming as we’ve come to unfairly expect. It’s hard to distinguish if he’s ever acted or if he’s just a super nice guy. Following 2018, which saw the superstar stuck in the mediocre Rampage and the flat-out awful. Skyscraper, it’s nice to see Johnson strike back with another hit following Fighting with My Family earlier in the year.

Jason Statham has always been a somewhat underrated actor. While the films he takes on often centre around ridiculous premises, it’s hard to find an actor who can make them feel real. Statham carried The Meg on his back last year and gives one of the decade’s finest comedic performances in Spy. Hobbs & Shaw is another showcase for why we can’t take Statham for granted. As Shaw, Statham is the funnier of the two. Shaw’s frustration with what’s happening around him leads to brilliant comedic moments. A scene involving a door scanner will leave audiences in stitches.  Statham’s fighting style is more technical than Johnson’s brute force style. It’s always enticing to see how Shaw handles a fight against those who are bigger than him. Hobbs and Shaw are no odd couple. Both can fight, crack one-liners and take on anyone who comes their way. Together they have created a duo who fans will gladly watch  deliver more pulsating adventures for years to come.

What’s disappointing about the film is how they treat its side characters. Outside of Hobbs and Shaw, everyone else draws the short straw in terms of character development. Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw had the opportunity to become as memorable as her fictional brothers played by Statham and Luke Evans. While Kirby shines in her action sequences, the film relegates her to a potential love interest for Johnson. Kirby is great in the sense where she’s allowed to show some personality and flare, but the film lets her down in another example of the series not caring about its female characters in the same way it cares about its men. If Kirby does return for the eventual sequel it’s only fair that they change the title to Hobbs and the Shaws.

Idris Elba as a supervillain is the type of casting that makes perfect sense. It’s clear to see the Elba is having a ball as Brixton. Whenever the actor gets to chew up the scenery it’s delightful. Brixton is bogged down by a needless mysterious evil group, but that can’t take anything away from how fun Elba is. The smirk on his face as he declares himself “black Superman” is delightful. Elba has served another reminder as to why he must be the next Bond. The actor commits to any project with an admirable degree of dedication. Who knows? Maybe Cats will be good?

Director David Leitch has wasted no time in delivering another blockbuster following his work on Deadpool 2 last year.  A film which I found to be a huge let-down following the brilliance of the first one. Thankfully, with Hobbs & Shaw, he brings a similar type of direction that he used for Atomic Blonde. The action sequences are amongst the series’ best. The final act is insane and glorious at the same time. Leitch has been given the creative freedom to deliver a film that mostly feels less like a Fast & Furious film and more like a David Leitch film. There are some sloppy moments that can’t be forgiven. There are plenty of nameless female characters that are viewed as nothing more than objects – in 2019 you’d have hoped that the series would move away from that direction. Leitch also seems eager to keep returning to a POV shot from Brixton’s perspective that is let down by subpar special effects.

Writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearse may have written a film that makes next to no logistical sense, but they get a pass for coming up with dialogue that no other movie could pull off. Hearing Statham calling himself “a champagne problem” before fighting with a bottle is wonderful. Leitch fills the film with big surprises that no one saw coming. It’s odd that the typical Fast & Furious tropes are what let the film down. When Leitch focuses on making the film his own it’s clear to see that this is a director who could ascend to the top of the action pile sooner than we expected. 

Overall, Hobbs & Shaw is the finest Fast & Furious film to date. It’s bonkers from start to finish, not a minute goes by where the film attempts to be normal.  It arrives at a time where most summer blockbusters have been mediocre and repetitive. Nothing about Hobbs & Shaw feels like more of the same. This is a film that gets Dwayne Johnson his mojo back, gives us tier one Statham action and gives us hammy villainous Idris Elba. What’s not to love? If most of the series was like this then The Fast & Furious franchise would not be a mocked one. Go watch this on the biggest and loudest screen you can find. Soak up two hours of pure mayhem. You will not find a film this year as fun as this one. 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

135′ 43″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is released 2nd August 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Official Website

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Review: The Lion King

DIR: Jon Favreau WRI: Jeff Nathanson • PRO: Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, Jeffrey Silver • DOP: Caleb Deschanel • ED: Adam Gerstel, Mark Livolsi DES: James Chinlund MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Lion King (1994) is one of the greatest films of all time, period. Think about it for a moment. What film has the heart that The Lion King possesses? What film can make your eyes crumble into floods of tears? What film can make your belly ache with fits of laughter? What film has as many songs that everyone knows inside and out? What film has told a Shakespearean story for all the family to enjoy? What film has a colour palette filled with as wide a variety? What film after 25 years keeps getting better with every viewing? The film has defined childhoods since its release. Whether young or old there is something for everyone within the film. Disney has decided to lay all their cards on the table and make a play that could lose them many fans. To remake The Lion King is akin to remaking The Godfather. It’s an impossible mission. How can you improve on cinematic perfection? Granted that isn’t the goal. The goal is plain and simple for the world to see. Disney as with all their recent remakes views their famed property as a nostalgic goldmine. To achieve anything less than matching the original is a failure. What’s the point of remaking a film if you’re not going to at least hit the heights of the original?  Does the 2019 version of The Lion King (2019) make the case for these remakes being any way necessary? Or is this Disney’s way of taking your money and laughing in your face?

The Lion King (2019), for those of you who don’t know, tells the story of Simba from cub (JD McCarey) to mature lion (Donald Glover) learning what it means to be a king. To call the film live-action feels like a fib. When no one is talking you’d swear that the Discovery Channel was on. The opening “Circle of life” sequence is astounding. As the camera sweeps from the iconic sunrise to pride rock you can’t help but feel giddy as you see a vast variety of animals hurrying to see little Simba’s presentation. Visually this is up there with the finest CGI to ever grace the screen. From a technical perspective, the film is a glorious success. Considering how haunting the new Dumbo looked we should be happy that the animals here are breathtaking.  Sadly, the opening sequence is the only time the film comes close to recapturing the spirit of the original. 

This film feels like flat coke. The same ingredients are there, yet it just doesn’t taste as satisfying. The voice acting – besides 2 characters – never comes close to matching the originals. The songs have the same lyrics, but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re just covers. The story follows the exact same beats without the charm. This iteration of The Lion King is completely okay. There’s nothing offensively wrong with it.  The problem is that the original wore its heart on its sleeve. The story was never what drew us into The Lion King. It’s always been about the heart. It’s basic science to know that you can’t replicate the heart. This Lion King is the same movie that we got in 1994 without its soul. 

The hardest challenge for any remake is the casting. Trying to reimagine iconic voices is a mammoth task. Especially in the case of The Lion King as the voice acting is one of the originals strongest assets. Director Jon Favreau decided to make the film as realistic as possible, a decision which leads to the film’s biggest flaw. Favreau wanted the lions in the film to have the same facial expressions as real lions. If you’ve ever seen a lion, you’ll have noticed that they always have the same expressionless face. An expressionless face is not what you need when you’re making a film about talking lions. Whether Simba is happy, sad, scared or excited he has the same facial expression. The actors voicing the lion’s voices never quite match up to their characters as a result. JD McCrary is unable to convey the childish innocence of young Simba because his character looks constantly bored. Donald Glover ,the most charming man in Hollywood, is stiff as the older Simba as he is unable to bring his swagger to the lion. Beyoncé is miscast as Nala; Disney clearly went for name over acting calibre in her casting. Nala is given more to do in this version but Beyoncé struggles to charge any emotion into her acting. James Earl Jones returns as Mufasa in a performance that is surprisingly tame. Jones gave Mufasa one of the most iconic voices of the 90s, yet here he sounds bored and uninterested in the beloved character.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only one of the lions who delivers a memorable performance as the villainous Scar. Ejiofor is aware he will never be able to copy Jeremy Irons stunning performance; he chooses to go at the character in a new direction. Ejiofor’s Scar is more vengeful, angry and resilient that Irons’ theatrical villain. Out of all the actors playing lions, Ejiofor is the only one who attempts to bring some originality to the project. When the actors give up trying to replicate the 1994 film this version strives. 

Even though The Lion King is the lion’s story, the film is filled with other animals that elevate the film to its classic status. The side characters in this version save the film from being a complete write-off. At the halfway mark of the film, Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) are introduced. From here the film stops sleepwalking and attempts to bring something new to the table. Eichner and Rogen are electric as the dynamic duo. Eichner makes Timon feel perfect for a new version of his show Billy on the Street. Timon is quick-witted and fires one-liners at an impressive rate. Rogen as Pumbaa is wonderfully cast. Rogen is fast becoming a comedy veteran; at just 37 the actor never gives a lazy performance. Together Eichner and Rogen have a chemistry that rivals Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. If Disney had any sense, they would commission a new Timon and Pumbaa series as the two are easily the highlight of the film. John Oliver brings his dry humour to Zazu. Oliver chooses to give his own take of the bird rather than copy Rowan Atkinson’s. While many of his jokes fall flat it’s admirable that Oliver was brave enough to try something new. When the film is attempting to be original it shines. Unfortunately, there aren’t many moments or characters that try to be original. What made the new Aladdin enjoyable was that it clearly wasn’t a mere rehash of what we saw before. 90% of this Lion King is the exact same as what we seen in 1994 without the charm. Which is all the more surprising when you look at the man behind the camera.  

Jon Favreau is a typically reliable director. The director turned Will Ferrell into a superstar with Elf, kickstarted the MCU with Iron Man and made the wonderful yet underseen Chef.  Favreau has already proved himself capable of nailing a remake with The Jungle Book (2016). Favreau’s Jungle Book is tremendous, the film perfectly captures the soul of the original while adding new elements that arguably top the original. The Jungle Book is hands down the best remake that Disney has released by a landslide. Anticipation was high when it was announced that he was returning to take on The Lion King. Sadly, this is the first film that Favreau has directed where it feels as if he didn’t have creative freedom. This version is confined to its promises of a realistic tale. Which means characters like Rafiki (John Kani) are relegated to minimal roles. The decision to turn the hyena’s (Alfre Woodard, Eric André, and Keegan-Michael Key) serious rather than unhinged makes them less menacing and intriguing than they were before.  As the film is attempting to be realistic the classic songs lose much of the substance that made them memorable. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is no longer the vibrant colourful piece that it was before. “Be Prepared” is spoken as if it’s a speech rather than a musical number. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is sung during the day in a decision which boggles the mind. The score from Hans Zimmer isn’t the problem, it’s as beautiful as it was the first time. The problem is that Favreau’s vision strips the songs of the imagery that made the iconic movie moments. A movie about talking animals is not the one that you should be determined to make realistic. Beyoncé is given a song near the end that is inserted for publicity and nothing else. Outside of the questionable music choices, Favreau’s direction is sluggish and sloppy. A slow-motion flashback scene near the end is ludicrously bad The film clocks in at 2 hours, over 30 minutes longer than the original. There’s no real reason for the sudden extension. In fact, there are sequences in the movie where not much is happening. To feel bored during The Lion King is a sign that this project should never have seen the light of day.

Overall The Lion King (2019) is a shadow of its source material. It never strays too far from the original. When it occasionally does it’s great. Timon and Pumbaa are so good that they are almost worth the price of admission. Everything else in the film is a stiff version of the impeccable original. The decision to be as realistic as possible while staying loyal to the original leaves the film stiff. When Donald Glover is your leading man and he’s boring, you know something is wrong. Is the film worth watching? Honestly, you’re better off watching the 1994 film for the hundredth time. While many will defend the film by saying it’s its own thing, that statement is made redundant by the film inside the opening 5 seconds. Disney is more than happy to feed off your nostalgia. To them, it doesn’t matter how mediocre these films are. By the end of the month, this film will be the second highest-grossing of the year.  Give it 15 years and we’ll eventually be getting remakes of these remakes. 

 

Liam De Brún

118′ 7″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Lion King is released 19th July 2019

The Lion King – Official Website

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Review: The Brink

DIR: Alison Klayman PRO: Marie Therese Guirgis,  Alison Klayman DOP: Alison Klayman ED: Brian Goetz, Marina Katz  MUS: Ilan Isakov, Dan Teicher’ • CAST: Stephen K. Bannon, Louis Aliot, Sean Bannon

White nationalist Steve Bannon has been a shady figure in politics for years. Many of us would love to return to the golden age where ‘Sloppy’ Steve was virtually unknown by the masses, and mainly spent his time quietly hobnobbing with, and in, the lunatic fringe. There, he peddled his extreme views and conspiracy theories to other Nazi sympathisers through the likes of Breitbart and his questionable films. Ultimately, it was his work as a political strategist on the 2016 presidential campaign which catapulted him to the status of celebrity racist; Trump’s surprise victory meant Bannon became a divisive household name internationally, which provided a pretty loud platform for his special brand of xenophobia.

Filmmaker Alison Klayman begins following Steve for The Brink soon after his relatively amicable resignation from the White House in August 2017. Although not explicitly stated in the film, Steve repeatedly insists that he resigned because of how unpleasant he found it working there. He says this a lot. However, like-many a recently dumped ex, he remains infatuated. He spends his time rallying for Trump, talking about Trump and even making films for, and about, Trump. This, Steve concedes, is all propaganda for the right.  In fact, very early on in the film, Steve monologues about on the successes of Nazi Germany, admitting his admiration for their processes, but just falling short of outright agreeing with their goals. 

It’s clear from the get-go where Klayman’s political leanings lie; in this fly-on-the wall documentary she gets excessive access to his world. Her voice can be heard on occasion, picking at the holes in Steve’s narrative or questioning his allegiances. While The Brink highlights Steve’s hypocrisy and thinly veiled racism early on, what shows Klayman’s restraint and talents as a filmmaker, is also the balance she gives. For all his many, many, many flaws, Steve comes across as warm, folksy and charming. She picks up on all the quirks that makes him relatable, such as his desire to lose weight, his penchant for fizzy drinks and his go-to catchphrases. This was the first time I could see why the other side could be so seduced by such eloquently phrased delivery from what appears to be such a gentle man.

However, underneath the superficial niceties, Steve Bannon is as shrewd as they come, and a very subtle bragger at that. He’s a former investment banker with a Harvard Business School education. In a public forum, he’s quick to denounce the ‘elites’, however, to his entourage and Klayman, he humblebrags about learning strategies in Goldman Sachs while taking private jets to 5-star hotels. In fact, the public persona he presents feels structured, and carefully curated even through the film. Steve regularly gives various outlandish characters loud introductions, (for example the ever lovely Nigel Farage, or Chinese billionaire Miles Kwok) and then slinks away, going ‘off the record’. Klayman still manages to catch him with his guard down on occasion, banging his head against a wall, firing staff, or shouting profanities down a phone. Overall, the time frame is relatively short, and while Klayman covers his work riling up the far right in Europe, she finishes up just after the US 2018 midterm elections.

There are moments in this film that are perhaps the most telling as to his true nature, such as when Steve’s confronted over his antisemitism by Klayman and separately by a journalist for The Guardian. He starts to sneer like a delighted, guilty dog, who’s just ripped up an expensive leather couch cushion and is absolutely loving it. Either Bannon is an evil genius trying to usher in the age of the Fourth Reich, or he’s a sleazy snake-oil salesman desperate for attention from those with actual power. Judging by this film, he could be either – or both. 

Gemma Creagh

 

The Brink is released 12th July 2019

The Brink – Official Website

 

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Review: The Dead Don’t Die

WRI/DIR: Jim Jarmusch PRO: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan DOP: Frederick Elmes ED: Alfonso Goncalves. DES: Alex DiGerlando MUS: SQÜRL’ • CAST: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Iggy Pop, Rozy Perez, Tom Waits 

In the town of Centerville, USA, the dead start rising from their graves and feeding on people. An array of eccentric characters must deal with the consequences. These include the police chief (Murray), his understudies (Driver and Sevigny), sword-wielding mortician (Swinton) and angry Hermit Bob (Waits).

Jim Jarmusch returns with this agreeable, if often toothless, zombie satire. The cast are all pleasantly droll and the laid-back atmosphere of the piece is enjoyable. Jarmusch’s satirical targets are, however, both decidedly on-the-nose, yet also under-cooked. There is a clear emphasis on the climate crisis. Polar fracking is said to be the cause of the zombie breakout. However, this is never elaborated on further. Steve Buscemi’s remorseless redneck also acts as something of a Trump surrogate. He even wears a MAGA-style hat. Again though, it’s hard to draw too much depth from any of these allusions, in this case given the scale of the cast of characters and the fairly meagre screen time offered to Buscemi. In keeping with Jarmusch’s post-modern style, the film occasionally veers into breaking-the-fourth wall commentary on itself. Again, like most things in the film, it prompts approving smiles but never turns into anything meaningful.

Jarmusch’s engagement with zombies also feels dated. He gives the impression that he thinks this film’s attempts to draw parallels with zombies and consumerism – the zombies are drawn to things they were when they were alive, such as Iggy Pop’s coffee guzzling zombie – is original, as if Dawn of the Dead and the subsequent forty plus years never happened. One could also question Jarmusch’s decision to have the zombies excrete dust when they are dismembered. Jarmusch said one reason for this was because he didn’t want to make a splatter film. But avoiding the splatter only results in the violence of the film feeling soft and unaffecting, further adding to the anaemic feeling the film gives off in general. 

Jarmusch remains a singular, albeit inconsistent voice in American cinema. This is unmistakably his work and features on array of familiar, talented faces from his other films. It’s good to see Murray back in a lead role again. The likes of Swinton and Waits too always make for pleasant company. Newcomers to the Jarmusch universe such as Landy-Jones and Gomez also equip themselves well. Frederick Elmes’ cinematography is typically excellent. SQÜRL’s score also contributes nicely to the laid-back atmosphere of the piece. 

Enjoyable, but not likely to live long in the memory. 

David Prendeville

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

The Dead Don’t Die is released 12th July 2019

The Dead Don’t Die – Official Website

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Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

DIR: Jon Watts • WRI: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers • DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd • ED: Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dan Lebental • PRO: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jon Favreau 

Sony’s well advised alliance with the Disney, Marvel people continues to pay off with this entertaining sequel to Spiderman: Homecoming, entitled Spider-Man: Far From Home in continuance with its home-themed titles. I’m guessing the next one is going to be called, Spiderman: No Place Like Home.

Far from Home follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, which resulted in the successful destruction of Thanos and the return of those who were turned to ashes five years prior (if you don’t know this already shame on you).  

Peter Parker and his friends, Ned and MJ, are adjusting to life, five years after the ‘blip’, as it is now known… at least to teenagers. Not having aged, they are finding some of their friends have grown in their absence. Most notable of these, for Peter, is Brad, once a scrawny ten-year-old, now a buffed up teenager who is making the moves on MJ.  The gang’s school trip to Europe is interrupted by Nick Fury, who needs an unwilling Spider-Man to help a new hero in town, Mysterio, Quentin to his friends, (a better than expected Jake Gyllenhaal). Quentin is chasing down elemental creatures that have destroyed the earth of his dimension and now threaten to destroy ours. Peter Parker unwillingly aids the agents of SHIELD and Mysterio, who becomes a sort of replacement mentor for the much missed Tony Stark.

Moving alongside the expected superhero shenanigans is the joyful, humorous teenage road trip. Peter is head over heels in love with MJ now and this possible romance is the where the story’s heart is. The last near girlfriend of his, moved a distance after her dad, The Vulture, was incarcerated, you might remember.  I’d say teenagers move on quick but there was a five-year gap if you count the ‘blip’. 

I wont tell you anymore, suffice to say Spidey has all sorts of ups and downs, personal challenges and life-threatening moments that he manages to overcome and save the day. Director Jon Watts does a great job of balancing the drama and the comedy. Watts understands that the whole thing is absurd already but that doesn’t mean it has to be treated with mockery and, god forbid, that camp might rear its head. For the most part, he balances out the humour and jeopardy beautifully. There are some clunky moments in there and some of the humour doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s easy to forgive, when the heart of the piece is so adeptly handled by the actors. 

The nerd part of me would love to say more about the plot but to say more would spoil the hell out of the wonderful revelations. I should point out that the film only plays to full satisfaction if you stay to the very last scene; yes, that means the final post-credit scene, not the middle post-credit scene. Anybody who leaves the cinema before seeing that final scene has in affect watched a different movie than us stalwarts.  I was never so amused and satisfied with a post-credit scene as I was with this one. If you stay for it you’ll thank me. 

Paul Farren

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Spider-Man: Far From Home is released 5th July 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home– Official Website

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Review: In Fabric 

DIR/WRI: Patrick Strickland PRO:  Andrew Starke ED: Matyas Fekete DOP: Ari Wegner MUS: Cavern of Anti-Matter CAST: Marianne Jean-Baptise, Gwendoline Christie, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohmed, Hayley Squires 

Patrick Strickland’s film In Fabric takes on aspects of different genres combining thriller, horror and romance into a fantastically beguiling and eerie watch. At once stylish and disturbing, this film is as visually evocative as it is intriguing. While Marianne Jean-Baptiste excels as lonely, recently separated Sheila, the “artery” red dress that she buys also has a leading part to play. The film follows the journey of this dress as it wreaks havoc in the lives of those that are unfortunate enough to wear it. Interestingly, this dress does not possess it wearers – it has its own blood-thirsty agency. The film is highly symbolic and somewhat dreamlike – or more accurately nightmare-like. Reality blends with the bizarre and we are kept on our toes throughout as we watch the dress take on its victims.  

In Fabric is set in 1980s London, taking place during the winter sales season. Dentley & Soper’s department store features as the hive of retail activity; demonstrating a time when in terms of consumerism high street stores still reigned supreme. Set against this backdrop, the experience of shopping within this film emerges as a transformative and transcendental experience. Indeed, the changing rooms are not changing rooms but “The Transformation Sphere”. Framing the purchasing experience in this light is achieved in both comical and somewhat creepy ways. For example, the sales assistants are dressed in glamorously gothic style, filling the ears of shoppers with fantastical statements. 

The film alludes to the possible evils of consumerism but doesn’t appear to be an outright attack on capitalist culture. Instead, the evil here appears to function on a spiritual rather than a cultural level. The department store, its staff and the red dress seem to be connected with something that is cult-like, occult and satanic. We witness entrancing advertisements on television screens which show the employees posed as though readying themselves for some type of ceremony, beckoning for customers to enter the shop. Indeed this ritual is repeated every morning before the buyers are welcomed in.  The fact that the dress is red is significant; a colour which is typically associated with evil, danger and the devil. However, the ambivalent tone persists in the film and we are left wondering about the true nature of what is going on until the very end. 

While red is seen as the colour of evil it is also known as the colour of love and lust. On one level, the red dress is used as a means to find love for the characters in this film. Firstly with Sheila, it is bought for a blind date. It can be viewed as a potential tool to find love and quell loneliness. Following on from Sheila, Babs tries to re-spark her fiancées interest in her by asking how she looks in the dress. Reg is also forced to wear the dress on his stag night. What ties these three characters together is that wearing this dress represents something hopeful for each: for Sheila she might find someone, Babs wants to feel admired by her fiancée and Reg is celebrating his soon to be married life. However hopeful the characters might be, the love that is represented here is disappointing – the embarrassment of a bad blind date and the difficulty of living with a demanding fiancée show how impossible it can be to find true love. It is clear in this film that love is not the answer as each character is doomed from the moment the dress comes into their lives. 

Structurally In Fabric could be viewed as a somewhat unsettling watch. Vested in the story of Sheila, the quick cut to the story of Babs and Reg is unexpected. These narratives have quite a different tone and while our interest has been with Sheila, their story feels a little dragged out in terms of pace. However, this demonstrates that the plot is revolving around the trajectory of the red dress rather than the human characters. 

Conclusively, In Fabric is a disturbing yet colourful watch enhanced greatly by a good sprinkling of bizarre dark humour. Overall, the film has several unusual qualities which make it a memorable watch. It mixes genres so that there is suspense – but a slow seeping kind of suspense. The horrifying moments come in dribs and drabs; there’s blood but it’s not constant gore. Above all, this is a film rich in symbolism, with many shocks throughout; it’s overall ambiguity and many allusions leave viewers with much to ponder afterwards. 

Irene Falvey

118′ 45″
18 (see IFCO for details)

In Fabric is released 28th June 2019

In Fabric   – Official Website

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Irish Film Review: Prisoners of the Moon

DIR: Johnny Gogan • WRI: Johnny Gogan, Nick Snow • DOP: Eoin McLoughlin • DOP: Johnny Gogan, Fionn Rodgers • ED: Patrick O’Rourke • PRO: Johnny Gogan  • MUS: Steve Wickham • CAST: Jim Norton, Cathy Belton, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine

The human and environmental cost of technological progress is a spectre which haunts history, from medical trials without informed consent to conflict minerals in smartphones. It’s a difficult subject to grapple with, especially when a now mainstream technology or an historical feat of technological achievement has a murky past. 

In Johnny Gogan’s Prisoners of the Moon, we hear the words of Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp survivor, Jean Michel: ‘It was at Dora I realised how the pyramids were built’. It was in the underground tunnels of Dora that the German army’s V-1 and V-2 rockets were manufactured using slave labour. The book that Michel would go on to write about his time at Dora would eventually lead by chance to one of the V-1 and V-2’s chief engineers, Arthur Rudolph, being forced to leave the United States despite being given citizenship while working on the American space program.

After World War II, several engineers and rocket scientists who were based at Dora, including Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, were hired by the US government as part of Operation Paperclip. This docudrama examines this era, when US authorities decided to look the other way when considering the moral implications of recruiting former Nazi party members to work on their project to send a man to the moon. 

It takes as its focus Rudolph, whose work on the V-1 and V-2 rockets contributed to the success of Saturn V and the Apollo 11 launch. Using a mix of archive footage, interviews, and dramatic re-enactment, the film follows Rudolph’s early career in Germany, his time in Dora, his immigration to the US and work on the space program, his return to Germany by ‘mutual agreement’ after questions were raised in the ’80s, to his detention when attempting to enter Canada in the ’90s and the subsequent immigration hearing there. The film explores Rudolph’s culpability, what he may have seen or not seen at Dora, and speculates on the man and his conscience.

The re-enactment segments are where the film wavers. While well cast, there are some scenes that may have been better served by a documentary style rather than a dramatic one. The wealth of detail in the film, from archive footage to written and verbal accounts and expert analysis, suggests there would’ve been ample material to tell this story in documentary mode alone. Those elements of this deftly researched docudrama are its strongest and most engaging, raising challenging questions about the role of Nazi scientists in the achievement of the first human space flight.

Cathy Butler

75′ 29″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Prisoners of the Moon is released 28th June 2019

Prisoners of the Moon – Official Website

 

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Review: The Cold Blue

Erik Nelson’s documentary film tells the story of the B17 bomber crews during the last two years of World War II. Working from fifteen hours of footage originally shot in 1943 under the guidance of legendary director William Wyler for his propaganda documentary ‘Memphis Belle,’ a moral piece telling the story of the most famous of the American B-17 bombers to see action in World War II.  

The footage, which languished for a long time in the archives, has been restored with astonishing results, similar to Peter Jackson’s recent World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow OldCold Blue, rich with colour, spectacle and detail is an evocative reminder of a terrible time in world history, beautiful, tragic, mundane, terrifying and terribly human. 

Nelson tells his story using interviews with surviving veterans who flew those planes from England to Germany to drop bombs. These former boy soldiers, now in their nineties remember their day to day routines, what they did and what they suffered as well as remembering albeit in an abstract fashion, the suffering they caused to hundreds of thousands of German civilians. This is powerful filmmaking, it does not pass judgement on anyone, it just quietly unrolls its chapter-filled story structure with reminiscences, powerful imagery and a most beautiful score by Richard Thompson that is full of emotion and absent of melodrama. 

Nelson has described the piece as a Koyaanisqatsi-style film about these young men in war, presenting the story rather than commenting on it, leaving judgement for the audience. For anyone truly becoming immersed in the narrative and imagery the film can achieve a great deal. though all might not agree with the results. It is at the very least a way of opening a door to learning more about this terrible time in human history. It should be noted that Nelson’s next film will depict the German perspective, using discovered Nazi propaganda footage that was used to tell the German people their side of the story.  

This HBO produced film is screening for one night only in the IFI this Thursday and comes highly recommended. 

Paul Farren

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Review: Yesterday

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Jack Barth, Richard Curtis • DOP: Christopher Ross • ED: Jon Harris • PRO: Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson • DES: Patrick Rolfe • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Himesh Patel

Love Actually is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of the romance genre to ever be created. So, upon hearing that Richard Curtis wrote the screenplay for Yesterday, I had to get myself to the cinema to see it. I really believe that films that fall into the romance category don’t get the recognition that some of them (definitely not all) deserve; some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are calling this film ‘dumb’ and ‘corny’. Others claim the film is just an advertisement for The Beatles. If this is the case are we to call Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman advertisements for Queen and Elton John? Maybe they’re right, but they are brilliant, entertaining movies with an incredible soundtrack. Yesterday, containing The Beatles music, has a soundtrack just as good. However, I cannot help but compare Yesterday to Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman considering all three are centred around the music of legends, and it does not stand up to them equally. That’s not to say that it’s crap, far from it, but just don’t expect it to be on a par with them. 

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician, attempting to make something of himself. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) acts as his driver, roadie, and manager, hauling Jack, and his kit, to his various gigs, and trying to book places for him to play. But after multiple lack-lustre gigs, Jack is beginning to think it might be time to throw in the towel. However, that night, as Jack is cycling home, all the electricity goes out, across the globe, leaving the world in darkness for twelve seconds. It is enough time for Jack to be invisible to a bus, which hits him. This collision does something though, Jack can remember things that existed before the blackout that other people cannot. Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, and The Beatles; nobody knows what they are, they no longer exist. Jack is the only one with the knowledge. This knowledge allows him to take The Beatles music as his own, making him the greatest musician of his time; but it’s not without its struggles. For one, Jack has to remember all the lyrics to every Beatles song, which is a tall order; one scene shows him visualising what happens in the song Eleanor Rigby as he tries to remember the lyrics, which I particularly appreciated. He also struggles to get the respect from people that these songs deserve. Eventually Jack makes it big time, thanks to Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) hiring Jack as his supporting act, which then puts him in contact with his agent Deborah (Kate McKinnon). Through his journey, Jack does not always choose the right path; the course of fame never did run smooth.

Yesterday shows great respect for The Beatles’ music, not destroying it with silly gimmicks (except for Ed Sheeran’s suggestion to title Hey Jude, Hey Dude). Himesh Patel does justice to the songs, his voice is so easy to listen to and enjoy. It is a joyous celebration of their music, allowing audiences to enjoy their most well-known songs. That’s what is so good about this film, it doesn’t isolate viewers who aren’t so well up on Beatles music, because many will recognise the songs played, whether they are Beatles fans or not. As I said earlier, with Richard Curtis writing the script you can easily rely on him to include a romance, and Yesterday is no different. James and Patel work well together onscreen, their awkward sexual tension is suited to their characters’ relationship. Of course, there is a grand romantic gesture, one very reminiscent of a scene in Love Actually; you’ll know what I mean when you see it because you’ll recognise the song. Ed Sheeran just comes across as completely himself on the big screen, and really suited the naturalistic feel to this film; and it’s always nice to hear a few of his songs put into the soundtrack. Kate McKinnon is great as always; I could watch her all day; there is just a charisma she exudes that makes her so entertaining to watch. 

This is an easy-going, enjoyable watch, with great music that will have you dancing in your seat. Yesterday demonstrates the importance of music to people’s lives; so let’s keep singing about Jude and Eleanor Rigby, let’s keep singing about Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, because there might not be music like that created again to make people Come Together. 

Shauna Fox

116′ 10″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Yesterday is released 28th June 2019

Yesterday  – Official Website

 

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Review: Brightburn

DIR: David Yarovesky • WRI: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn • DOP: Michael Dallatorre • ED: Andrew S. Eisen, Peter Gvozdas • PRO: James Gunn, Kenneth Huang • DES: Patrick M. Sullivan Jr. • MUS:Tim Williams • CAST: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones

What if Superman came down to Earth but was evil is one of the most ingenious ideas for a film in recent memory. In fact, it’s such a great premise that even when the James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) produced Brightburn doesn’t maximise on it fully, it remains an impressive piece of work as both a horror and superhero flick.

In all but name, the figure at the centre of the movie is Superman. Brightburn opens with married couple Kyle (David Denman) and Tori (Elizabeth Banks) about to have sex. Books scattered across their house reveal they are having trouble conceiving. Suddenly, a meteorite falls from the sky, landing outside their window in the title town in Kansas. Approaching it further, the two discover a small spaceship housing a human-looking alien baby boy. Naming him Brandon, they decide to raise him as their own – telling people, including their new son, he was adopted.

We then cut forward about 12 years later. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now an awkward teenager. He’s not mature enough to process his feelings for a girl in his class and is struggling with a nagging feeling that he is different. At night, meanwhile, the teen finds himself caught in trances – ones which lure him to an ominous red glowing object locked in his family’s barn. Soon after these occurrences, Brandon discovers he has super-human strength. Coupled with his already blossoming teen resentment, the realisation his parents lied to him about his origins leads him on the path to evil.

The film is a game of two halves. The first is strong. Director David Yarovesky effectively mimics the idyllic looking Americana heartland of Zach Snyder’s first and best Superman adaptation Man of Steel. The script by James Gunn’s cousins Brian and Mark Gunn during this portion is well-observed, capturing the awkwardness of adolescence. It also manages to mask exposition within natural sounding conversations between Kyle, Tori and Brandon, pushing the plot forward while giving viewers a chance to enjoy the central family at their happiest.

It’s down to this section that when things start getting creepy, it is very exciting and tense because we like the characters. The great score by Timothy Williams – blending classic superhero-like orchestral music with darker synth sounds – grows more menacing. The sound mixing – emphasising at key moments scraping metal and strange alien whispers – heightens in intensity.

What’s also particularly great about the first half is how it links Brandon’s experiences of puberty with his superpowers. After all, every person’s body changes as they become a teenager. During this time, plenty think they are truly different and misunderstood. Plus, if Superman discovered as a bullied teen with various complexes that he was capable of flinging a lawnmower over 100 yards or could shoot lasers out of his eyes, it would probably warp his mind.

For instance, Kyle and Tori find a bunch of lad mags hidden under Brandon’s bed. Joking about it, they flick through them and are shocked to come across medical photos of bodies cut open – as if their child was studying human anatomy. Believing it to be a weird teen thing, Kyle decides to give his alien kid ‘the talk’, resulting in an awkward pitch-black father and son scene for the ages.

That said, as the film heads into its second half, a significant plot-point reveals Brandon is actually being manipulated into embracing his darker side. As such, much of the movie’s emphasis on the difficulties of adolescence falls by the wayside. From that point on, Brightburn essentially downgrades into a slasher flick – complete with supporting characters making dumb decisions – but with young Superman instead of Michael Myers.

This section is still good. Dunn as the lead is effectively creepy delivering villainous threats – which he can totally deliver on – but in an unbroken, unconfident 12-year-old voice. Yarovesky and the Gunn’s keep Brandon’s powers vague so that when the kills do come, they surprise. During these stylish stalking sequences, the director uses red as a motif – Brandon’s eyes which change colour when he’s angry, car lights on a dark road or most impressively the point of view of a character who’s had one eye punctured with glass – the blood effecting her vision.

At the same time, you are still emotionally invested in Kyle and Tori. As the bodies pile up, a schism occurs between them. Tori defends her son, tragically believing him incapable of the murders. However, Kyle grows more and more terrified of his child, with Denman giving a great anxiety-drenched performance.

Brightburn will probably draw comparisons to other darker superhero flicks like Chronicle or Split. However, the movie it most reminded me of was The Belko Experiment, another film which James Gunn helped gestate but did not make. Like that horror, Brightburn takes a cool premise and executes it in a blackly fun but nihilistic manner. That said, you can tell why Gunn didn’t direct both himself. The two – while solid – don’t fully capitalise on their premises, ones which after being established can only lead to one end.

Stephen Porzio

@StephenPorzio 

90′ 12″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Brightburn is released 21st June 2019

Brightburn – Official Website

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Review: Child’s Play

DIR: Lars Klevberg • WRI: Tyler Burton Smith • DOP:  DOP: Brendan Uegama • ED: Tom Elkins, Julia Wong • PRO: Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg • DES: Dan Hermansen • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: T Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman

Every Halloween you will always see the same costumes from horror movies. Ghostface will be requesting a song to the DJ dressed as Michael Myers. Freddy Krueger  will be scrambling for change to get his coat in the cloakroom. Pennywise will be tearing it up on the dancefloor. One thing that all of these characters have it common is that they come from big recognisable films. One guy who shows up to every Halloween party in Chucky. There will always be someone donning dungarees and a cheap ginger wig. Despite all his appearances, every Halloween Chucky’s movies never seem to receive the same degree as love as the other horror icons. Chucky is left out in the cold while everyone else are film stars. It’s not for the want of trying; he has been in 7 films before this reboot. Chucky has always been waiting for that movie to shoot him into the VIP section of horror. With It (2017) and Halloween (2018) blowing fans away with their fresh takes on old-school horror, it seems fitting that Chucky gets an opportunity to garner new fans. Child’s Play (2019) gives the doll a chance to prove to the world that he deserves his annual place at the party. 

Child’s Play (2019) tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), a 13-year-old, who, following a move to a new city, is left with no friends. In a bid to try and give her son some happiness for a change his mother (Aubrey Plaza) decides to give him a doll (voiced by Mark Hamill) for his birthday. With his new buddy Chucky by his side, Andy strives in the world. His grades improve in school, he makes new lifelong friends and Chucky scores the winning touchdown in the big game. Wait, this isn’t the feel-good indie film of the year? Andy’s doll Chucky is a murderous doll who rejects his programming in favour of becoming evil. After 7 films it would have been nice for Andy to catch a break for once. The film arrives at a time where horror has become staler than ever before. Every single month we get the same horror movie filled with the same lifeless characters and beat for beat jump scares. The film is surprisingly different to your average run of the mill horror film. The narrative could have easily been one where Chucky is evil for no reason from the get-go. In this film you can understand why Chucky picks up his trusted knife. Chucky is a good friend who just wants what’s best for Andy. The opening act details the rise of their friendship in a natural manner. From Andy’s reluctance, to their eventual bond, the friendship feels honest. When Chucky sees Andy being mistreated by his Mother’s boyfriend (David Lewis) and the family cat, Chucky seeks justice for Andy. Unfortunately, Chucky’s version of justice isn’t exactly legal. What follows is a second and third act that is more conventional than its first. The difference here is that we are invested in the characters. Nothing feels forced. Too often in horror films’ the villain goes full villain mode for no real reason. It’s refreshing to get a slasher film that cares about its characters. 

Child’s Play made an ingenious decision in casting Mark Hamill as the menacing doll. Hamill is obviously most known for his portrayal of Luke Skywalker. While most actors would have decided to stick to blockbusters after leading the most successful series ever. Hamill took a different path. Hamill decides to become the best vocal performer in the world. If you are unaware of his voice performances check out his portrayal of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill is arguably the finest Joker ever. In Child’s Play Hamill gives a voice to Chucky. The original Chucky, Brad Dourif, gave the character a gruff voice which was clearly evil, that’s not an insult – his performances were terrific. Hamill decides to give Chucky a child-like voice that is eerily off-putting. Even when he goes down a villainous route Chucky’s voice never changes. Hamill’s performance of “The Buddi Song”  will leave you with Goosebumps. The character is let down by its design, which belongs in a cheap parody film. How they greenlit a design of Chucky that resembles a CPR doll is beyond me. Hamill’s performance deserved to come out of a menacing figure not a cheap SNL prop. 

Having a teenager as your leading character is always a risky move. Especially in horror where the teen characters are usually whiny and unrelatable. Gabriel Bateman does a decent job as Andy. Bateman is no stranger to horror, having previously appeared in Lights Out. Bateman is likable as the kid who can’t catch a break. It’s easy to forget that Hamill wasn’t there when filming was taking place, Bateman was literally acting with a doll. Despite this, he still manages to create chemistry with Chucky.  Bateman is a talented young man who I’m sure we’ll see more of very soon. Once Andy makes friends the movie falters. Ty Consiglio plays Pugg in a performance that wouldn’t have landed him a part on Nickelodeon. Beatrice Kitos does better as Pugg’s sister Falyn, but they take the film off course with teen angst. Had Andy been written like his friends the film would have been a complete disaster.  Aubrey Plaza is as entertaining as always as Andy’s mother Karen. Plaza uses her comedic experience to land solid laughs. It’s a shame that she disappeared for chunks of the film because she is always a hoot when on screen. Without a doubt the standout human character in the film is Detective Mike, played by Bryan Tyree Henry. Henry is one of the most consistent actors around today and shows yet again what he has to offer. Henry brings charm and liability to a character that in any other movie would be one note. If Hollywood doesn’t cast Henry and Plaza in a romantic comedy in the next year I will riot. 

There’s been an air of controversy surrounding the creation of this film. This is the first ever film featuring Chucky that has not been written by creator Don Mancini. Mancini has distanced himself from Child’s Play (2019) after MGM didn’t want him on board. It’s never nice to see a creator being pushed away from his own creation and leaves a sour vibe around the film. Lars Klevberg is the director of this Chucky reboot. Klevberg’s only other feature to date is another 2019 movie called Polaroid. The direction he chooses to take this film  was wise. Turning Chucky into an Alexa-type gadget was wise. The scares may not be intense, but you can’t deny they are creative. Klevberg does fall victim to clogging his last act with unnecessary jump scares. The script, by first-time movie writer Tyler Burton Smith, is filled with clever gags.  Smith doesn’t quite figure out how to write teenagers or how to finish the movie neatly. For a first-time writer there is a lot to be admired. For 2 guys who are new on the movie scene, Klevberg and Smith managed to make one of the year’s surprisingly enjoyable films. 

Child’s Play (2019) is the best Chucky movie to date. It’s not that this is a masterpiece. For starters the other 7 aren’t that good, besides Chucky himself.  Everyone expected this to be a dud. All the pieces seemed to come from different boxes, yet they all fitted together. Hamill is riveting as the villain. Bateman delivers one of the better leading teen performances. Aubrey Plaza and Bryan Tyree Henry are both too likeable to dislike. You’ll come out of the theatre with an odd feeling. Seldom do you walk out of a horror film thinking of the characters instead of the horror. Yet Child’s Play (2019) is that movie. Roll on October when we will finally have a reason for so many people to dress up as Chucky. I might just join them.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

90′ 4″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Child’s Play is released 21st June 2019

Child’s Play – Official Website

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Review: Toy Story 4

DIR: Josh Cooley • WRI: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom • ED: Axel Geddes • PRO: Mark Nielsen, Jonas Rivera • DES: Bob Pauley • MUS: Randy Newman • CAST: Tom Hanks, Patricia Arquette, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, 

It’s hard to review Toy Story 4 without taking the entire franchise into consideration.  The original was a true phenomenon, the first feature-length computer animation, it ranks up there with Snow White as a groundbreaking moment in film history; yeah I know Snow White wasn’t the first animated feature, that’s not the point. Both films knocked the naysayers for six and helped form an inspiring legacy within the film industry.  Its sequels, 2 and 3, managed to keep up the quality in story telling and cinematic thrills, some would argue, even surpassing the one that started it all. Not to be a purist but I think the one that started it will always be the true gem of the franchise, it’s stating the obvious but without it the others would have nothing to build from. Of course they were quite brilliant and Toy Story 3 seemed to be the perfect ending to the trilogy.

Now some 24 years on and nine years after Toy Story 3 a fourth, some might say unnecessary, sequel has arrived. The original film, as most of you know, was about jealousy and fear of obsolescence in the form of Woody’s old-school cowboy being rankled by the new toy in town the deluded astronaut Buzz Lightyear, the toy who didn’t know he was a toy. This has been a constant thematic source throughout the franchise albeit in different forms and has evolved as the films have unveiled more and more aspects of the magical world of talking toys.  Now Woody faces the possibility in a whole new way, as his fate in his duty conflicts with his fear of not being needed anymore.

Toy Story 4 opens with a prologue explaining how Bo Peep was moved on from the lives of the other toys. A poignant sequence that reaffirms Woody’s feelings for Bo Peep and his loyalty to Andy.  Skip forward nine years to life with new owner Bonnie and the gang are in the familiar mode of waiting for that moment that makes a toys life worthwhile, being played with. Woody, as ever the organiser and consoler of worried toys, is not doing so well in these stakes but hey, his is not to reason why, he’s a toy and his job is to make sure Bonnie gets through childhood as best as a toy can do that kind of job. 

In a delusional moment of overzealous worry for Bonnie he sneaks into her bag and goes with her to her first day at school; in his own mind he think’s he might be useful. It’s not said explicitly but our Woody seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The pressures of doing the best for Bonnie and the fear of being left in the cupboard are getting to him. Despite his odd choice, Woody returns home successfully and introduces the gang to Bonnie’s new toy, one she has made at school. Part plastic fork, glued eyes, blu tack, lollipop sticks for feet and baring the name Forky, as one does when named by a five-year old. Unfortunately Forky, played by Tony Hale with the same quirky quality he brought to Buster in Arrested Development, is having a full-on existential crisis and would rather be in the in the trash basket than be Bonnie’s toy. 

Woody now has a new mission and reason to be; he is determined to get Forky to take on this new responsibility no matter what it takes. The job mostly involves keeping Forky out of the trash. Finally, Forky jumps from the family RV during a road trip in what can only be seen as a toy/trash suicide attempt. After a contrived bit of banter about how he can meet the gang at an RV rest stop further down the road and Woody goes off on the requisite rescue mission. 

That’s only the beginning; coincidences and contrivances come at an alarming rate even for an animated film as Bo Peep is met and further rescues and high suspense follow as well as the meeting of a whole slew of new toys that, for the most part, are as entertaining and endearing as expected from this franchise.

This round is a Woody-heavy affair, relegating most of the other old co-stars to the background in favour of the sheriff and some new characters; only Buzz really figures strongly in the tale and even he feels like just a supporting character with a pointless subplot involving his ‘inner voice’, which attempts to play off the deluded Buzz persona of the past.  

Some fun new characters are on board though; Polly Pocket and, the stunt bike toy inspired by Evel Knievel are given homage and a boost in toy sales, in the form of Officer Giggle McDimples, Bo Peep’s sidekick and Duke Caboom, a Canadian motorbike stunt toy who couldn’t live up to the television advertising, losing his disappointed kid after only one Christmas day.  Also on hand are two cheap Funfair prizes, Bunny and Ducky who have a run-in with Buzz and provide creepy advice at the worst moments.

The tragic villain of the piece is Gabby Gabby, a doll from Woody’s era who has never known the love of a child, who adds some interesting dimensions to the proceedings; her minions, a trio of ventriloquist dummies, bring an extra element of horror to the mix which might have the smaller audience members dragging their parents to the cinema exits.  Ventriloquist dummies are up there with clowns on a lot of people’s heebie jeebie lists.

Though the film seems like an unnecessary addition to the franchise (Toy Story 3 was also a hard act to follow) there is no doubting its ability to entertain. The franchise is starting to creak under the logic of its own world building but at least this one has a worthwhile ending or at least an end to this particular era at the very least, that just manages to survive the shenanigans. It is certainly the oddest of the bunch and has a few more than usual philosophical questions amidst the mayhem and ends on a final musing from Forky that will certainly keep some of the brighter children awake at night.

Paul Farren

@PaulFarrenA 

99′ 58″
G (see IFCO for details)
Toy Story 4 is released 21st June 2019

Toy Story 4  – Official Website

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Review: Men in Black: International

DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh • ED: Zene Baker, Christian Wagner, Matt Willard • PRO: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DES: Charles Woo • MUS: Chris Bacon, Danny Elfman • CAST: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson

How dare you have Frank on the poster and only have him in 1 scene?

Men in Black has always been an oddity to me. It’s a film series that you need to remind yourself that there’s already been a trilogy.  When you think of trilogies your brain would normally turn to Lord of The Rings, Batman or The Godfather. Granted these are sublime series. I just find it odd that you don’t see the Men in Black trilogy in many DVD shops. Maybe there’s a reason for this? What if this beloved series isn’t all that good? When you think of these films your brain will automatically respond with memories of Will Smith, Frank the talking dog and Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan expressions.  Do you remember these films? The first instalment of Men in Black is terrific even today. The ’90s aura suits the campy style of the film. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ chemistry make it a film that will forever be remembered. The sequels on the other hand are a different story all together. Men in Black 2 is a disaster. Filled with offensive jokes and a lifeless plot, it may be one of the worst sequels of all time. Men in Black 3 is a step up from 2 thanks to a great Josh Brolin performance. It still never comes close to hitting the heights of the first film. On the whole, it’s hard to find why there ever needed to be a sequel to Men in Black in the first place. Men in Black: International arrives with the task of trying to convince the world that this is the first sequel of the series that isn’t a cash grab.

Men in Black: International tells the story of Agent M (Tessa Thompson), a new addition to the Men in Black (MIB). Paired with the experienced but impulsive Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), the 2 of them must travel the world to defeat a global threat. If that wasn’t bad enough there’s a mole in the MIB. Can Agent M and Agent H overcome their differences? Or will the plot make things up as it goes along? The MIB movies have never been known for their magnificent plot structure. MIB: International takes the cake when it comes to messy storytelling. It’s a film that’s trying to juggle too many balls at the same time without ever attempting juggling before. The film wants to tell the story of rookie Agent M. The film also wants to give Agent H a redemption arc. These two desires clash and end up cancelling each other out. One moment Agent H is showing Agent M the ropes, the next moment Agent H becomes inept for no reason leading Agent M to become the more level-headed of the two. An odd couple pairing can only work if the film chooses distinct roles for each of the couple. By making them switch every 5 minutes it makes the film unbelievable.

MIB: International doesn’t know what it wants its main threat to be either. Is it the twin aliens (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who are causing havoc in cities? Is it Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), Agent H’s ex-girlfriend turned intergalactic arms dealer? Or is it the mole inside the MIB? Every single one of these villains is underdeveloped. The twins don’t have any dialogue to give them personality or motive.  Riza is only in the film for 20 minutes. The mole is so painfully obvious that when the film decides to switch to it in the last 20 minutes you can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. Thankfully, the film is saved thanks to its dedicated cast.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are no where to be see this time around. This leaves big shoes to fill. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth through sheer hard work manage to get these shoes to fit. We all know how good these two were in Thor: Ragnarok. Their chemistry was no fluke. Once again Thompson and Hemsworth bounce off each other with ease. Thompson brings a sense of awe and wonder to her character. You can see how blown away she is by the world by looking at her eyes widen. Agent M is undermined at times by a script that falls flat in its attempts to dig into the sexism of the past films. Thompson’s likability makes it impossible for these moments to derail the film.

Agent H is the more obvious comedic foil of the two. Hemsworth has shown time and time again that he’s hysterical when given a platform to showcase his comedy skills.  Hemsworth can sell even the poorest joke. When Thompson and Hemsworth get the opportunity to bounce off each other for lengthy periods it makes you forget about the mess of a movie they are in. It’s weird because their characters’ arcs are written so poorly, but you don’t notice because of how good the performances are. Without these two leads the film would have been a disaster. What could have been one of the worst films of the season becomes a solid one thanks to Thompson and Hemsworth. If these two keep it up they can become one of film’s great pairings.

The rest of the cast are a mixed bad. Kumail Nanjaini threatens to steal the film with his character Pawny. Pawny is an alien who joins forces with Agent H and Agent M in the second half of the film. Nanjani uses his comedy experience to turn what could have been an irritating character into a memorable one. If you haven’t seen Nanjani in The Big Sick change that now. This guy is going places. Rebecca Ferguson’s character design is the only impressive thing about her character Riza. The arms dealer is given no time to leave a lasting impression after being hyped up for so much of the film. Laurent and Larry Bourgeois are commonly known as French dance group Les Twins. It’s hard to figure out why they were chosen to be the main alien villains. They don’t get to act or dance. They needed to do something. Hell, I would have taken a dance sequence set to the Will Smith theme. The other MIB agents don’t get much to do either. Emma Thompson shines in her 5 minutes of screen time in her return to the series. Underusing her should be considered a criminal offence. Yet the MIB films have done it twice now. Agent C (Rafe Spall) is irritating in every single scene he’s in. Unfortunately, not in the intended way.  The sooner Hollywood learns how to use Spall right the better. High T (Liam Neeson) is the head honcho of the London MIB branch. Neeson does a solid job at reminding audiences that he’s good at talking when he’s not giving interviews. For a 2-hour film it’s bizarre that every single character feels underutilized.

MIB: International is the first MIB film not to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. With that comes an opportunity for a new director to take a stab at adding a new dimension to the series. F. Gary Gray is the man at the helm this time around. Gray is certainly an established director with Straight Outta Compton being one of the best films of 2015. Since then Gray’s gone on to direct Fast & Furious 8. Rather then making more dramas the director has decided to go down the big-budget action root. Gray’s direction for the most part is solid. The action scenes aren’t ground-breaking but there is enough to keep you invested. A scene involving a hover bike is an enthralling set piece. The problem is that this film feels like more of the same. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen in a MIB movie before. The same guns. The same action sequences. The same amount of alien’s explosions. It doesn’t feel like anything new was brought to the table to enhance the world. Which is shame considering the possibilities of a world filled with aliens. Gray is a talented director, but it doesn’t feel like he was given an opportunity to express himself. The root of all the film’s problems comes from the script. Written by Matt Holloway and Ant Marcum the script is a dud. These guys wrote Iron Man and now they seem to have forgotten how to write. The plot is predictable and jumps from A to Z at any given moment. The jokes fell almost entirely flat. I was the only person in the cinema who had the slightest giggle from them. For a film set in an alien world there are few aliens to be found. It’s the third film of this summer that attempts and fails to display feminism. These blockbusters really need to look at Hereditary, Roma or The Favourite. Blockbuster movies seemed adamant to point out how they are all for having female characters and it needs to stop. It’s your own fault that you excluded them for year so please quit the pandering.

Men in Black International isn’t the abomination that many critics are making it out to be. Hemsworth and Thompson bring enough fun that you’ll have a good time. The problem with the film is that it’s very lazy. It’s another film in this series that feels like it’s only doing it for money. Not one of these sequels has felt honest. Each one feels like a movie has already been written and they decided to slap Men in Black on it to sell it.  The first film is filled with heart and to see it exploited is a travesty. In 7 years, we’ll see another MIB reboot. This one will star of the Stranger Things kids and Jaden Smith.  At the end of the day this isn’t a series of a films. This is a series of marketing exercises led by Sony. Marketing in Black will return to feed off nostalgia in 2025.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

114′ 49″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Men in Black: International is released 14th June 2019

Men in Black: International – Official Website


 

 

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Review: Diego Maradona

DIR: Asif Kapadia 

“Football is a game of deceit” –  Diego Maradona

A dancer, a chancer, a renegade romancer, whether it was on the field or in the streets, Diego Maradona zigged and zagged through opposition, pulling the wool over our eyes and the ball from under their noses. In a career built upon a catalogue of bluffs and outrageous talent, his stardom stretched beyond the pitch, converting stadiums into cathedrals brimming with the hymns of “Olé, Olé, Olé”. Though chaos trailed him with every dizzying run, tackles sliding in from tabloids and addiction nipping at his heels, the iconic number 10 sidestepped a doomed fate, surviving to tell the tale long after the final whistle blew.

The ultimate trickster, cheating death is what separates Maradona from Asif Kapadia’s previous subjects in Amy (2015) and Senna (2010). The director’s interest, however, is in what these gifted people had in common, and what emerges is an intimate triptych exploring the burdens of god-given genius.

Nowhere is this theme more starkly apparent than in the film’s immersive opening scenes: following his record-breaking transfer from FC Barcelona, a convoy of squealing Fiats drags us through the bursting streets of Naples, down into a feverishly packed Stadio San Paolo for Maradona’s unveiling. It’s a suffocating introduction that would look a riot if taken out of context but instead we’re left feeling the trappings of talent closing in around us.

Like with his previous aforementioned documentaries, here Kapadia employs his trademark mosaic method in turning the screen into a palette of archival snippets. From cheesy late night chat show clips to fuzzy home videos, the audience sift through mounds of memory in order to salvage the hidden truths buried beneath. It’s an intoxicating formula which has yet to lose its appeal and with it we sense a keen interplay between subject and form, where the clattering of spliced imagery echo the giddy erraticism of the two-footed wunderkind.

It comes as a slight disappointment then that the story we carve out struggles to find any refreshing insight into the myth of Maradona, preferring instead to stick to well trodden narratives of the ‘tortured genius’. The film leans heavily on the internal conflict between ‘Diego’, the humble boy from the slums and ‘Maradona’, the self-destructive demigod. For a figure globally renowned for his daring instincts on the pitch, Diego Maradona (2019) feels content with cautiously playing the ball out from the back.

Kapadia’s astuteness is rather how he shuffles recorded memories while still managing to evoke an overpowering sense of time and place. By focusing on the star’s turbulent Napoli years and allowing flashbacks to slip in naturally, we forego the stale rhythms of the ‘cradle to grave’ approach while still engaging with the crucial context surrounding the story. A big part of that backdrop is the question of national identity, something Kapadia touched on with Senna. Here it’s foregrounded, political, social, and consistently compelling.  

A life spent on the run inevitably takes its toll. In its final moments, the film reaches a sombre conclusion in weighing up the heavy price of greatness – no doubt encouraging some viewers to roll their eyes considering Maradona’s recent conduct. A saint and a sinner, the man has made a career from polarising opinion. They say every good story needs a hero and a villain, Maradona played both. However, it’s Kapadia, in an earnest attempt to dig beneath tabloid tattle, who finds the boy caught in the middle.

Brian Quinn

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Maradona is released 14th June 2019

 

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Review: Late Night

DIR: Nisha Ganatra • WRI: Mindy Kaling Music: Lesley Barber • DOP: Matthew Clark • ED: Eleanor Infante • PRO : Ben Browning, Jessie Henderson, Mindy Kaling, Howard Klein  • CAST: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Ike Barinholtz, Hugh Dancy

Late Night, written and produced by Mindy Kaling achieves something not many films do – it discusses pertinent cultural issues yet is underlined with the uplifting positivity of a romantic comedy. The film, which stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, can be viewed as a conversation opener. It paves the way for subjects such as gender and race to come to the fore. It’s worth celebrating that these topics are raised and also handled with a degree of insight and transparency – and not forgetting a healthy dose of clever humour.

Structurally this film contains many recognisable romantic comedy aspects; it contains heaps of self-realisation and roadblocks that are overcome with dramatic flair. However, one crucial element of the romantic comedy is muted and replaced with a new focus – it showcases women that are pursuing their careers rather than an irresistibly charming man. Both Thompson and Kaling shine in their roles; Thompson as revered comedy talk show host Katherine Newbury and Kaling as Molly – the naïve, overly enthusiastic yet charming new comedy writer on Newbury’s talk show writing team. As the jaded romantic narrative is omitted in this film it highlights instead two women overcoming the various obstacles that they face in the world of TV. The plot centres on Katherine Newbury scrabbling to carry on as the host of her talk show aided by Molly’s interventions and ideas.

As the title of this film would suggest, it explores the present state of talk-shows and where their popularity falls within the ever-changing landscape of the media. In terms of entertainment this film questions both what do people want to hear and who do they want to hear it from. The film commences with the self-possessed, sophisticated and undeniably smart, talk-show host Katherine Newbury accepting what we are soon to learn is just one of the many awards she has won throughout her career. This beginning is a stark contrast with what follows – the long concealed news that her show’s numbers have been dropping for years and her position and power are shaky.

With her show slipping away, Katherine must entirely re-question her style if she is to compete in the fast-paced, short-attention-spanned world of today’s social media and Youtube culture. The film reveals that media is changing – Katherine’s experience, intellect and sharp wit have been replaced with seemingly mindless teens and videos of online animals. Despite her awards and success, the film takes a realistic stand point in highlighting that she must incorporate popular tastes, gags and internet celebrities in order to keep her viewers engaged. This film does not shy away from revealing the decline in popularity for shows such as Katherine’s and effectively depicts dog-Youtubers and teenage vampire actresses as the silly yet scary threats to the legacy she has built. It calls into question media as we know it and begs the question if talk shows can remain relevant in modern society and if so how.  

While Emma Thompson excellently embodies the infamous Katherine Newbury, Kaling’s performance as Molly is equally engaging and culturally relevant. While it is made clear in this film what kind of content is now necessary to keep audience’s attention the film also shows who we are now interested in – what voices in society need to be heard. Katherine hires Molly not based on her experience but rather because she needs to fill a hole in her comedy writing team – a woman. The film takes issues of race and background head on, with it being revealed to Molly that she’s not there on merit but rather as a “diversity hire”. It is clear that the world of this office is one of the white, seemingly privileged male and Molly is only there to make sure a different voice is represented on this team. The inherent acceptance that Molly, based on her Indian heritage and female gender, is not welcome in the writer’s room is reflected when the other male writers presume she is an office administrator rather than a writer. Molly’s initial earnestness to succeed is quickly crushed by her peers. Although in rom-com fashion she does overcome these challenges, her experiences highlight successfully how far she must go to be accepted in this role on the basis of her race and gender.

As this comedy focuses on women who are committed to their careers, this provides an insight to the trials women must face to be accepted in their roles and stay relevant and on top of their game. While Katherine Newbury is represented as legendary within the world of comedy her position is still threatened by the next unimaginative and vaguely sexist young male comedian that comes along. The ratio of men to women in the writers group is 7:1 meaning that in this world only a certain portion of voices and opinions are being heard. For example, Katherine Newbury chooses to shy away from women’s issues which aren’t often discussed such as menopause and contraceptive choices. The world of TV painted in this film shows one where even a powerful woman, regarded as being accomplished, still needs to fight to retain her position.

Overall Late Night is an extremely enjoyable watch with serious subjects raised but with a smart joke around every corner. It courageously says what might not always be said and to that effect it raises questions that need to be asked and changes that need to be made. Emma Thompson encapsulates the star that gets a reality check and fights to the end to remain the star that she is- all whilst showcasing a dazzling collection of power suits. Mindy Kaling has written an excellent film which illustrates the difficulties which can be in a working gal’s way and shows us how to overcome them with equal doses of strength and comedy.

Irene Falvey

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Late Night  is released 7th June 2019

Late Night  – Official Website


 

 

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Irish Film Review: Papi Chulo

DIR/WRI John Butler • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DES: Susannah Honey • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

John Butler, director of Handsome Devil (2016) and The Stag (2013), has proven his ability to explore the poignancy, volatility, and ultimate realness of human connections in his films. Papi Chulo, starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño, is certainly no exception. The film follows Sean (Bomer), a TV weatherman who finds himself struggling with loneliness and isolation in the sweltering urban landscape of Los Angeles. In an effort to combat this loneliness, Sean hires migrant worker Ernesto (Patiño), under the guise of requiring his labor, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Sean is not looking for an employee so much as he is looking for a friend.

The two certainly make an unlikely pair. Sean is young, white, gay, and apparently wealthy. Ernesto is middle-aged, Mexican, married with a wife and children, and doing everything he can to make ends meet. Through these characters, human differences and their ultimate limitations becomes one of the film’s main points of exploration. Sean and Ernesto clearly have very little in common, and their relationship is even more strained by the distinct language barrier between them. However, the two men manage to find ways around it, and the film reveals through its progression that what is truly important is the act of communication itself, the connection that forms between two people simply from being heard and acknowledged.

Barriers between people undoubtedly exist; barriers of race, class, age, and language. Butler skillfully demonstrates these barriers not only through the characters’ dialogue, but also through a clever motif of glass doors and windows. An early scene in the film, for instance, has Sean taking refuge behind the window of his car door in an effort to avoid a conversation with his coworker Susan (D’Arcy Carden). This motif also serves to initially separate Sean and Ernesto, as Sean is frequently shown viewing the older man through his car window or the glass door of his deck. These separations create tensions between characters, which in turn create opportunities for the film’s wry sense of humor. Butler perfectly captures the universal human experience of awkwardness, whether it comes from stretches of silence between two characters that lasts just a little too long for comfort, or from a character trying, and failing, to keep his composure under the scrutiny of his peers.

Papi Chulo is ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships. It is brilliantly acted, with wonderfully astute and down-to-earth performances by Bomer and Patiño, backed by Wendi McLendon-Covey, D’Arcy Carden, and Elena Campbell-Martinez. The urban setting of Los Angeles is particularly well-suited to the narrative, as Sean and Ernesto form an unlikely friendship in a city where genuine human connections can prove shallow more often than not, and where time can seem to stand still under an always-shining sun.

 Dakota Heveron

98 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Papi Chulo is released 7th June 2019

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Review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

DIR: Simon Kinberg • WRI:John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Simon Kinberg DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Lee Smith • PRO: Todd Hallowell, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

It never bodes well when a film gets a press screening the day before it is to be unleashed on the public, being optimistic I thought maybe it’s some kind of bluff. Then I saw the rest of my press-screening invite telling me that all comments and reviews were embargoed until 7am on the day of the film’s unleashing. A double bluff, I optimistically thought.  No such luck I’m afraid.

Dark Phoenix arrives with less than a whimper; the much delayed and rumoured-to-be-a troubled production, fails on nearly all fronts as a piece of glossy summer entertainment. With the best of goodwill from the most ardent fan it might work but for everyone else it is going to be a proverbial damp squib.

The plot concerns itself with the justly famous Dark Phoenix saga presented in the pages of X-Men back in the seventies, courtesy of comic legends Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the days before Watchmen came along and inadvertently turned things upside down. The only similarity between this film and its source material is Jean Gray’s struggle with a newfound omnipotent power and rival aliens fighting for said power.  All the original space-opera glory of the comic book only gets a brief nod when the X-Men go into space (not outer jut the bit outside the ozone layer), to save some astronauts from the space anomaly that is going to be the source of Jean’s and everyone else’s woes.

Set in 1992 to no good effect whatsoever, Charles Xavier’s X-people are media darlings and on the presidential hotline and yes, it does involve a bat phone type scenario, albeit without the humour; humour is very thin on the ground and when attempted falls squarely on its arse. Charles Xavier is seen to be losing the run of himself, a man verging on the pompous and thinking he knows better than everyone else using his protégés as his propaganda machine to maintain the love for mutant kind. The emotional heart of the story concerns Xavier doing what he thinks is best for Jean without concern for his right to do so when he suppresses a bad memory or two.  One anomaly later and Jean is all powerful and losing the run of herself, meanwhile aliens have come to earth to gain the said power – you get the picture.

The bulk of the story sits on Jean’s shoulders relegating everyone else to perfunctory supporting roles and character development that would be shameful in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The whole thing is remnant of a seventies television show that knows it has a good formula that doesn’t need changing; that is until it does. The set pieces offer very little excitement or originality, except for the first scene in space, elsewhere it is a strong feeling of déjà vu featuring telepathic battles, upturned cars, an attack on a train and my favourite, trying to cross the road… not a word of a lie.

So many lost opportunities are apparent watching the hamster-wheel mentality unfold. The cinema sins on show are so obvious it seems surprising that no one saw any of the issues with the story at a much earlier stage. At the helm of this trainwreck – that also features a trainwreck – is writer, director Simon Kinberg,  a man who has been part of the franchises lesser works including co-writer on X-Men: Last Stand, the original attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, the mind boggles.

Paul Farren

113 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released 5th June 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

DIR: Michael Dougherty • WRI Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Roger Barton, Bob Ducsay, Richard Pearson • PRO: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Lexi Rabe, Sally Hawkins

Warner brothers Monsterverse franchise is back in full swing with their third entry and second Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Things are heating up for the big bout expected next year: Godzilla Versus Kong.

Picking up from the end of Godzilla, in an oddly similar vein to Justice League, we find Monarch scientists (that secret group that have been monster-watching all this time), Emma, Mark and their daughter Madison searching the rubble of San Francisco for their lost son, Andrew, as Godzilla prepares for his final encounter with the rival monsters from that film.

Five years later,  daughter and mother are in Brazil where Emma is continuing her work with Monarch. Mark has retired, after finding it hard to work for an organisation that has involvement with the large creature that inadvertently killed his son. Emma is on the cusp of a breakthrough in communicating with the creatures thanks to a device known as Orca and, would you believe it, only one of these devices exists.

Enter Captain Jonah, an  eco-terrorist psychopath and his motley crew, just as Emma is putting the Orca device to good use on Mothra who has just emerged from her cocoon. One carnage of Monarch personnel, kidnapping and trip to yet another Monarch base in Antarctica and things are looking bad for humankind. The eco-terrorists plan is to awaken Titans (posh scientific term for monsters) all over the world in the name of saving the planet, give or take a few billion people I’m guessing. Things get out of hand, I kid you not, the idea of setting Titans loose wasn’t a bad idea to the perpetrators until Ghidorah, three-headed rival to the big G is let loose as part of this well thought-out master plan. It turns out Ghidorah ain’t from around here and has titanic plans of his own.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has one of the most bonkers premises I’ve seen in a while. The slaughter-filled plan to save the planet is up there with the most abominable plans of past dictators give or take a titan or two. But because of this bonkers premise rather than despite it, the film flies along with its sincere bonkerness in the best possible way.

The actors do their best despite getting landed with the most God(zilla)-awful dialogue and spending most of the time having terrible ensemble chats, jammed to the cloisters with exposition and on-the-money plot information. At least some of them seem to know they are in a monster movie, which adds to the fun. Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe reprise their roles from the first film as well-meaning Monarch scientists. Ken fares the best of the two and finally gets to be up close and personal with Godzilla. Poor Sally does not fare as well. Hero duties fall mostly to Kyle Chandler who many will remember from Peter Jackson’s King Kong – pure coincidence I’m sure that he is back fighting monsters and looks to be around when Kong returns next year. Millie Bobby Brown fares well as Madison, the conflicted daughter of Emma and Mark. Underused and coming out the best of all is Charles Dance as Captain Jonah Alan, who  gets to be the real beast of the film; when not slaughtering innocents he pontificates about what terrible creatures humans are.

Despite the bonkers premise and stilted human moments, Godzilla is a blast. If like me you love a good old monster-bashing, city-trashing piece of action, then your in for a treat. The film does not let up once the action starts, the filmmakers have certainly taken the time to understand the kaiju gold mine they are excavating. It feels like a genuine nod to sixties and seventies Godzilla and is filled with easter eggs for die hard fans … I’m sure there must be others out there. But of course this is not going to get in the way of those who are just discovering kaiju in the last five years. The only possible danger with all these extra monsters is that it seems like too much of a good thing. Where can they go with the upcoming Godzilla, Kong bout when there are all these other titans vying for our attention…

Godzilla vs Jurassic Park anyone?

Paul Farren

131 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is released 31st May 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters– Official Website

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Review: Booksmart

DIR: Olivia Wilde • WRI Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman • DOP: Jason McCormick • ED: Jamie Gross • PRO: Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison Katie Silberman • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Dan Nakamura • CAST: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis

What can one hope for from a female coming-of-age comedy 2019? I for one went into Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart hoping that it would be this year’s Blockers (which was, in turn, the previous year’s Bad Neighbours 2). And reader, it did not disappoint.

Following the fortunes of two model students on their final day of high school, Amy (Kaitlyn Deever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have avoided parties and general tomfoolery in favour of study and intellectual rigour throughout their school careers to ensure success later in life. This backfires when they discover that the rest of their graduating class has also been accepted to Harvard and Yale. Looking to make up for lost time, the two girls set off on an odyssey of graduation parties. Yes, it is in many ways the female version of Superbad. And while in one way it’s sad that we have had to wait over a decade for such a film to appear, it’s perhaps also a very good thing that no one attempted a female version of Superbad ten years ago.

While it’s undeniably satisfying to see new films flipping the script on the assumptions Hollywood has made about American high school since the ’80s, the film does occasionally overplay its hand. Almost every character turns out to be something they’re not, which at times can be exhausting, particularly for characters that had barely any screen time in the first place. However, this isn’t to take away from the impressive supporting cast and the good intentions behind it all: it’s nice to see a diverse array of high school characters wherein everyone is treated as an individual, and long may the dismantling of the Hollywood hierarchy continue.

And for many reasons, Booksmart feels worth the wait, bringing together as it does two fantastic leads who have deserved more screen time for quite a while now: Kaitlyn Deever managed to be a kick-ass kid in television’s adult-focused Justified while Beanie Feldstein was the infinitely likeable best friend in Lady Bird (and should have been the focus of the movie, in this reviewer’s humble opinion). Together they bring a wonderful combined energy to the film, with lots of the comedy coming from their offbeat exchanges. Despite seeing each other daily, they take plenty of time to send each other constant encouragement, which is as sweet as it is bizarre. As a spiritual sequel to Blockers it also follows in that film’s progressive steps: Amy is out and, aside from her Christian parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) who are stepping over themselves to demonstrate their acceptance of their daughter, her sexuality doesn’t raise any eyebrows.  And indeed, if Molly fails to understand the nuances of her best friend’s sexuality at times, it’s her own misunderstanding of female sexuality that is the butt of the joke. “I have a secret for you.” she tells Amy: “I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush, but I got a horrible UTI.”

Hopefully we will see more directing from Wilde and her all-female writing team, as they have succeeded in creating a laugh-out-loud comedy which explores the nuances of female friendship and permits its characters to make mistakes. Booksmart graduates with top marks (but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way).

Sarah Cullen

102 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Booksmart is released 27th May 2019

Booksmart – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: High Life

DIR: Claire Denis WRI: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox PRO: Laurence Clerc, Oliver Dungey, Christoph Friedel, D.J. Gugenheim, Andrew Lauren, Klaudia Smieja, Claudia Steffen, Olivier Thery Lapiney• DOP: Yorick La Seux, Tomasz Naumiuk   Ed: Guy Lecorne CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek.

 

Monte (Pattinson) is the lone passenger, along with his infant daughter, aboard a spaceship headed towards a black hole. Through flashbacks we see what brought this about: how he and a group of other death-row convicts were put on this suicide mission, dressed up as a shot at redemption. We find out what became of his former colleagues aboard the ship including the authoritative Dibs (Binoche), a fellow death-row convict, who also happened to be a doctor and who was intent on carrying out various sexual experiments on those on board.

The inimitable Claire Denis returns to our screens with this, her English-language debut. Any fears that a bigger budget and name cast would see Denis attempt something more mainstream are quickly dispelled in this elliptical, hypnotic and provocative picture. This being a seriously minded, contemplative science fiction film by an auteur director, it is inevitable that there will be some comparisons drawn to 2001, Solaris and Stalker. Some of the film’s body-horror elements also vaguely call to mind Cronenberg. However, while there are some nods to those, particularly some visual homages to the latter Tarkovsky film, this is a highly distinctive piece with a singular, pungent ambience and one that doesn’t play by anybody else’s rules. The structure of the film is often quite radical, the form deeply tactile.

In terms of Denis’ other films, the one it most resembles is Trouble Every Day. While this is Denis doing a sci-fi film, that was her riff on horror and the vampire sub-genre specifically. Similar to that film, Denis here doesn’t shy away from explicit depictions of sex and violence. Denis has no sense of middle-brow prudishness about her, a large reason why Trouble Every Day and her insidious, disturbing 2013 film Bastards got such hostile reviews from many critics. The often visceral imagery on show here, to go along with a plethora of bodily fluids, works in stark contrast to the tenderness depicted between Monte and his daughter, while also forcing us to confront humans animalistic nature and how this contrasts with our great accomplishments in the advancement of technology, not in a tasteful manner, but with blunt clarity.

This is a film that is rich in theme and texture, where contrasts and contradictions abound. The film lends itself to a vast array of interpretations, with the picture working as a series of snapshots from which the viewer can piece together their interpretation. At times the film seems like it’s a vicious, filthy satire of societal norms, other times it suggests it may be a Christian allegory. One can also just simply submerge themselves in the utterly tangible world of the film. Denis utilises Le Saux’s cinematography, Lecornu’s editing, and her regular collaborator Stuart A. Staple’s terrific score to create a trance-inducing spectacle. The film flits between the long corridors aboard the evocatively simple spaceship to darkly nostalgic 16mm flashbacks of her characters’ pre-space, past to extraordinarily odd and original scenes of eroticism, to scenes of harrowing brutality, to scenes of serene beauty. All the while, Denis exhibits a mastery of tone amidst a vast swathe of ideas, both formal and thematic.

The cast are all uniformly excellent. Goth carries on her recent string of strong supporting turns, while Benjamin brings a low-key warmth to his character. Binoche exhibits her typical charisma, throwing in a splash of dangerous malevolence for good measure. However, the standout out here is, of course, the reliably excellent Pattinson who spends much of the film on-screen on his own or acting opposite his character’s infant daughter. It’s a subtle, magnetic performance – the type that has become his trademark.

This is a wholly uncompromising, deeply evocative and highly intelligent piece of work.

David Prendeville

 

112 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
High Life is released 10th May 2019

 

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Irish Film Review: Float Like a Butterfly 

DIR/WRI: Carmel Winters • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Julian Ulrichs • PRO: David Collins, Martina Niland • CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins

Frances is a girl with aspirations larger than her family, and a temper hotter than the fires that they warm themselves around in the evenings, entertaining each other by singing haunting renditions of traditional Irish songs. Her universe is small, contained, and safe, until one fateful afternoon when local law enforcement delivers a sharp uppercut to her childhood, shaking Frances’ life to the core.

Written and directed by Carmel Winters (Snap, 2011), Float Like a Butterfly packs a punch with an emotional sting more potent than a killer bee. Set in 1960’s Ireland, Frances is just about the most unlikely protagonist imaginable, being at a societal disadvantage as a woman, let alone a young traveller woman. Gender roles are entirely inflexible, and the worst insult given to young men is “Don’t be acting like a girl”, forcing them to fight their way through life, as well as to recognise women as the inferior sex, therefore breeding toxic masculinity into the fibers of their community.

Struggling to establish her domain in this world that already has pre-established domesticated plans for her, Frances finds a kindred spirit in the stories of Mohammed Ali, as her father Michael would wax lyrical about him before his incarceration.  Emulating Ali, she knows that she’s the greatest, even before she actually is. Unfortunately, her father returns home from prison a changed man. He no longer shows her how to box, and teaches her little brother that it’s not tolerable for women to hit, but instead acceptable for them to be on the receiving end of a punch. But Frances has an indomitable spirit in comparison to the layabouts that live in the village and the drunks in her family, one that only a beating from a husband will tame. And with this reason in mind, Michael takes her and her younger brother, Patrick, on the road, but as their travels progress and she leaves the relative safety of her extended family behind, her world becomes desaturated, a shadow of its former vibrancy.

Hazel Doupe shines in her performance as Frances. Her steely blue gaze, laden with emotional narrative is accompanied by Dara Devaney’s portrayal of Michael Joyce. With a brash charm that wears thinner with the correlation of whiskey sunk down the hatch; he’s conflicted between admiration for Frances, and the inverse positions of authority established in his absence between his children, one which he often chooses to resolve with a quick hand and a sharp word. The music and score are evocative, joyful, and empowering; female dominated in both presence and lyrics, and the haunting lilt of the tin instruments is synonymous with both Ireland and its travelling community.

Float Like a Butterfly has a rare fervour, whereby it emotes both gut-wrenching sadness and a fighting spirit in one fell swoop. She’s about to choose the path not taken, but “there’s no wrong way when you’re on the right road.” Even if Frances wins this round, the fight is still far from over. Her boxing ring is one of sand, and pride is the prize.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Float Like a Butterfly is released 10th May 2019

 

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Another Look at ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

Tom Crowley takes an alternative look at Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

 

The true-crime genre has exploded into the public conscious. Its ascension is almost directly parallel to the phenomenon that is Netflix. The more people click on these programmes, the more will be produced and usually with quantity, quality takes a hit. Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger has made a career out of true crime. His masterpiece being 1996’s chilling Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which he directed with long-time collaborator Bruce Sinofsky, now deceased. The style of that documentary formed the basis for the wildly popular Making a Murder (2015), produced by Netflix for the masses hungry to binge watch injustices. Berlinger himself has made a true crime documentary for Netflix, the four-part Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019), which is one of the better entries into the already saturated true-crime canon.

Berlinger’s latest narrative film has the same psychopathic subject at its centre, Ted Bundy, who, before his death by electric chair, confessed to over 30 murders, including that of a 12-year-old girl. In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a title about as glib as the film’s subject, Bundy, played by Zac Efron, gets close-ups to a groovy 1970’s soundtrack. Promotions for the film purport it as being told from the perspective of his long-time girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and that its adapted from her book ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy’.  In fact Liz Kendall gets very little character development, resigned to being goo-eyed when Bundy is wooing her and crying, drinking and neglecting her daughter when Bundy is standing trial. Outside of this we don’t get to know who Kendall is, this is clearly Bundy’s film. He, even above Efron, is the star.

Before readers get disillusioned with the bashing of what has now become a beloved genre, there has been some fabulous and intriguing films about serial killers, from John Naughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), to David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), to more recently Marc Meyers’s My Friend Dahmer (2017) and Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (2018). Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is just not one of them. The film treats Bundy like a rock star, its structure more akin to a music biopic, and a bad one at that. Berlinger’s film achieves nothing beyond his own Netflix documentary. He strangely leaves out what could have been fictionalised and decides to reconstruct already documented video tapes with Zac Efron. How did Bundy survive on his own for days in the Colorado Mountains? What were the intricacies of his second prison escape? Berlinger is happy to walk over trodden ground. There is an actual interview with Bundy, which acts as a type of epilogue for the film. It ruins Efron’s performance. It is a good embodiment from Efron, in his first real stab at serious acting, he is full of charm, which is said to be one of Bundy’s key tools in his murderous arsenal. However, his eyes are too soft, he never captured the complete mania which exuded from the man.

The title card at the beginning of the film reads ‘Few people have the imagination for reality’.  Berlinger is one of those people, it is fiction he has the problem with.

 

Reda Andrew Carroll’s take here:

Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

DIR: Joe Berlinger • WRI: Michael Werwie • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Josh Schaeffer • PRO: Joe Berlinger, Nicolas Chartier, Michael Costigan, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin • DES: Brandon Tonner-Connolly • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Dennis Smith • CAST: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan

 

The ability to kill someone is something that should not be easy or even enjoyable and yet serial killers are subjects of intense obsession for many. David Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac ran with the tagline “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer” and a dozen years later it seems Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the inheritor to this phrase. The new phase of the serial killer film is here; one in which filmmakers examine the impact on the victims rather than the violent actions that often don’t bare repeating.

In 1969 Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins) meets Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) in a Seattle bar. They settle into a relationship over the next several years as Ted studies law in Utah while visiting Liz and her daughter on weekends. All the while Ted has been brutally murdering and raping women in the states of Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida. As Liz begins to suspect that all is not right, Ted’s crimes catch up with him in Utah and Colorado but after two daring escapes he is finally caught in Florida and put on trial.

Much controversy has been made about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Films like Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer have given horror films an unnecessary outlet. The simple fact is that their crimes don’t need to be painstakingly replicated either through fiction or documentary. A verbal description is enough which is what Berlinger does here. Another point of contention was Efron’s casting as a handsome, charming murderer with a killer set of baby blues. Which is exactly what Ted Bundy was.

Efron is magnetic in the title role. The film orbits around him more by necessity than by choice. Throughout Efron rarely allows the façade to slip just as Bundy did. Only in a chilling final scene the day before Bundy’s execution are we given a glimpse of this man’s cold, monstrous nature. It’s an incredible exercise in restraint on both Berlinger and Efron’s part. It makes that final reveal – amplified by Collins’ wounded shock – all the more chilling. It wouldn’t mean much if Collins and Efron didn’t play so well off each other though.

The start of the movie is a haphazard back and forth between three time periods. When Ted meets Liz, Ted’s first arrest in Utah and his execution in Florida. Eventually the film – much like Berlinger’s companion Netflix series Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes – settles and the true effect of Bundy’s crimes are revealed. It’s here we see Liz descend into a kind of walking catatonia. She obsessively watches the Florida trial, drinks heavily and neglects her personal and professional lives. Berlinger’s focus may be on Ted Bundy for most of the film but his sympathy and respect lies with the victims.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is shot with a kind of intimacy uncommon to serial killer films. Cinematographer Brandon Trost’s use of close-ups in intimate moments shared by Bundy and his girlfriends are either very affecting or emblematic of how manipulative Bundy was.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does two things extraordinarily well. First, it eviscerates the myth that the crimes of serial killers need to be shown in all their gratuity. Secondly it establishes Zac Efron as a dramatic force worth considering. Most of all Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile shows a great deal of empathy to those that never really received it: the victims. As the names of Bundy’s known victims appear in the final shot Berlinger makes clear that Bundy was not the sun around which the universe of this film revolved. He was in fact a cavernous, unfathomable black hole sucking even light itself into its crushing depths.

Andrew Carroll

110 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil is released 3rd May 2019

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Review: Woman at War

DIR: Benedikt Erlingsson • WRI: Benedikt Erlingsson, Ólafur Egill Egilsson •  PRO: Benedikt Erlingsson, Carine Leblanc, Marianne Slot • DOP: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson •  ED: Davíð Alexander Corno •  Music: Davíð Þór Jónsson • CAST: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Magnús Trygvason, Eliasen, Ómar Guðjónsson

The title of the film Woman at War perfectly captures the essence of this film – one woman on a relentless crusade for justice. However, the battle in question is a universal one rather than a personal one; global warming is the issue this woman is fighting for. Benedikt Erlingsson’s film is set in his native Iceland and includes a powerful central performance from Icelandic actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir. The film begins by showing the sparse and striking Icelandic landscape; the protagonist, Halla, a clandestine eco-terrorist cuts off the electricity supply affecting the surrounding industrial factories which Iceland are economically dependent on. Woman at War calls into question our own inability as a society to effectively deal with the overarching problem of our times – global warming – while also revealing the consequences of taking matters into your own hands.

While climate change is a global issue, this film focuses instead on one woman’s response to tackling global warming and the effect this has on her personal life and livelihood. When introduced to Halla it is clear that this woman has a functioning place in society and involves very few associates in her eco-conscious attacks. However, the character’s lifestyle choices are called into question when the possibility arises for her to adopt a child. As Halla’s actions are drawing more and more attention, the choice becomes clear: continue fighting for the life of generations to come or save the life of one child in the here and now.

To a certain extent this film highlights the effects that global warming is having on our society, looking beyond the realities of pollution and extreme weather it examines global warming as a point of moral conflict. This film explores the morality of our generation – while her extreme actions may be illegal, Halla views them as essential for the greater good. It is clear that the society Halla exists within can only focus on its everyday realities – fears of pay cuts and a lack of industry investment. Global warming in the context of this film reflects the individual’s own sense of morality.

Another focal point in this film includes the idea of man versus machine, with an emphasis on traceability. With the hope of adoption on the way it becomes increasingly important that Halla can ensure her criminal record remains clean. However, Halla is not ready to give up her environmental struggle in an instant for motherhood. Enraged by the havoc her country’s economy is wreaking on the planet, Halla must battle this out by herself and in doing so we see the conflict of man versus machine. Even in the wilds of Icelandic mountain land, drones and helicopters circulate the area, yet with her bow and arrow and the comical inclusion of a Nelson Mandela mask, there are moments when man defeats machine, giving us hope that Halla can succeed on her mission. In a data-driven world one of the most fascinating parts of the film are the lengths Halla must go to in order to prevent getting caught – phones in freezers, stealing typewriters and costume changes to name a few. While imaginative, this also reveals just how monitored the world has become.

While Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir perfectly encapsulates the defiant and risk-taking Halla, her performance as Halla’s identical sister, Asa, is also equally engaging. Neither of these sisters fit into particularly conventional roles within society and together they represent a sort of yin and yang combination. Both fight for peace – Halla on a global level and Asa on an inner level through yoga and meditation. Halla’s sister believes that through finding peace within ourselves this will have positive ripple effect onto others and therefore the planet. However, Halla believes in taking action and doesn’t see the benefit of looking inwardly to find solutions. Asa can be viewed as a contrast to Halla to highlight Halla’s extremism, bravery and willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. While Halla’s sister may not be as active as Halla in her actions both sisters demonstrate a strong sense of resolution and selflessness – qualities that do not appear to be evident in their government, police force and society.

While this film can be seen as realist in that it focuses on current topics and displays less conventional members of society, there are certain aspects to this film that require an extension of belief. Throughout the film there is a brass band that serves to express the protagonists inner emotions; while the music is excellently timed and adds a touch of humour, it alters the serious tone of the film somewhat. While Halla clearly knows how to remain inconspicuous, there are a couple of moments within the film that have an air of Deus-Ex-Machina about them.

Ultimately this is a gripping and intelligent film which tackles the biggest problem of our time with flair. It was interesting to see global warming represented from both a moral and a personal angle – not typically how global warming is presented on screen. While the film reveals the urgency of climate change it is also an ode to nature,  with shots of striking Icelandic mountains, hot springs and lakes, revealing nature as both restorative and a refuge. Woman at War is an excellent representation of human will and the need to do what is right even if this goes against the structure of society.   

 Irene Falvey

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Woman at War is released 3rd May 2019

 

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Review: Avengers: Endgame

DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt • PRO: Kevin Feige • DES: John Plas, Charles Wood • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan

Hard to believe that in eleven years Marvel have produced twenty two films all set in the one shared world whilst hovering around in the background has been an eleven-year threat of a menacing villain called Thanos, who has taken longer to arrive on the scene than the dragons in Game of Thrones.  My but aren’t superhero movies fans a patient lot.

Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of all that waiting and world building and Infinity stone learning (if you were actually paying attention what started with Iron Man and has built steadily ever since to create the phenomenon we know today). Taking its cue from the Marvel comics shared universe Marvel studios has built a similar world, where every film counts for its connection to the others in its shared universe.

Avengers: Endgame is a film so critic-proof that if every one of them gave this film a bad review it will still be the phenomenal success it is surely going to be. A milestone was already created with Infinity Wars record box office, the first half of this Avengers tale; and with a bummer of an ending too. Half of the universe wiped out with the click of Thanos’ fingers and his Infinity stone laden gauntlet, more importantly half the heroes in the Marvel universe, they killed Spider-man for Christ’ sakes.

That film, a tragic space opera if you will, was always going to be a hard act to follow. Of course no one will be walking into this film thinking they are all dead forever. The question is how would they save everyone? And there lies the rub for some, (critics mostly).

The main plot thrust offered is a good old fashioned time-travel yarn complete with references to every other time-travel film they could think of just to point out how ridiculous time travel is and set up their own rules. Trust me, when you see it you will be amused. What makes all of this work are the emotional stakes of the story and the rumour mill letting us know enough to suspect the loss of some heroes along the way; as Marvel movies go this is at least ten hankies worth of tears for the average fan.

Endgame is an unadulterated crowd pleaser, not so much a film as an event. The Russo brothers now on their fourth Marvel movie handle everything with storytelling skill of their comic book forebears as opposed to the likes of Chekov and understand quite well the old axiom of giving the public what the public want. All the necessary heroes get the right amount of screen time and for every laugh there are other things happening to balance it all out.

This one is critic-proof, it was made with love for the fans, the true believers and no amount of critical thinking can really understand what it all means to the ones that really care; no matter how they might deconstruct or criticize the proceedings, that have brought eleven years of storytelling to some shocking conclusions and created new horizons for the fans to continue their worship of all things Marvel.

Paul Farren

180 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Avengers: Endgame is released 26th April 2019

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Review: Donbass

DIR/WRI: Sergei Loznitsa •  DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Danielius Kokanauskis • PRO: Heino Deckert • DES: Kirill Shuvalov • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Valeriu Andriuta, Nina Antonova, Valeriy Antonyuk

The complexity and atrocity of war can be difficult to encapsulate within the running time of a film.  Sergei Loznitsa’s film Donbass rejects a linear recounting of the events leading up to the tensions in eastern Ukraine – instead the film is composed of a series of vignettes. These scenes portray a bizarre yet illuminating insight into the division in Ukraine between civilians that are Pro-Russian separatists and those that sympathise with Europe and the West. While the film is often farcical and dramatic it never fails to reveal the tyranny that the affected civilians must suffer.   

This film successfully manages to show the harsh realities of a conflicted war-zone with the addition of a heavy note of sarcasm and exaggeration. Much like the unexpected nature of war, the film jumps from one vignette to the next; the viewers never know which snippet of the war will be revealed next.

Direct conflict and battle scenes rarely feature; instead we witness how war has seeped into different aspects of culture/society and the civilian’s way of thinking and being. The film has many windows which provide a glimpse into the civil unrest – the scenes are high energy and have a sense of theatricality. For example, one of the first short vignettes includes a boisterous, feisty woman who has been slandered in the newspaper pour a bucket of what can be presumed is excrement over the head of a government figure. Her brash actions are a consequence of media manipulation and deception of the public- just one aspect of corruption at large in Ukraine.

While many of the stories in this film are similar in tone to the above, others bring us back to the reality of war, depicting the lives of civilians who have no power to stop its effects. The footage of a bomb shelter dwelling for those that have been left homeless due to the conflict quickly reminds the viewer that war can’t always be glazed over with humour. Inside, one of the residents guides the viewer through the shelter; his positive attitude clashing starkly with the grim interior he describes – dark, dingy, over-crowded and lacking in sanitation and supplies. Notably some residents turn their face away as the camera draws closer – they don’t want others to know what they have been reduced to. Stripped of comedy, it is this scene in the film that most effectively depicts the real everyday consequences of war.

Donbass doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of war. In particular this is illustrated through the somewhat medieval tactic of tying a soldier to a post in the middle of a public place to let passers-by do as they wish to punish him. The reactions reveal a comical, barbaric mob mentality (a tomato is genuinely shoved in his face) yet the aggression he receives also unveils a deep-seated sense of hatred and despair amongst the civilians. The film walks the line between satire and the reality of war – this scene perfectly combines them both.   

While peppered with many dark laughs, ultimately Donbass depicts the grim political landscape of the tensions in Ukraine. It provides a resounding impression of the conflict, the division and the denial of human rights in this border region.

Irene Falvey

110 minutes

Donbass is released 26th April 2019


 

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Irish Film Review: The Dig

DIR: Andy Tohill, Ryan Tohill • WRI: Stuart Drennan • DOP: Angus Mitchell • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Brian J. Falconer • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • MUS: James Everett • CAST: Francis Magee, Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe

Northern Irish directors, Ryan and Andy Tohill, invite us to delve deep into the mire that is The Dig, as a small community is ravaged by an unresolved murder, a family is torn apart, and the truth is attempting to climb out of its water logged grave.

Ronan Callaghan (Moe Dunford), a stain on the local community has come home, and judging from the dilapidated house that he returns to, coupled with James Everett’s effectively somber score, his homecoming is not a joyous one. We learn early on that he has recently been released from jail for the murder of a local girl, Niamh, a night that he was too black out drunk to remember. Despite having served his time, Ronan’s sentence is far from over, as Niamh’s father, Séan (Lorcan Cranitch), and sister, Roberta (Emily Taaffe), are mining for the truth on the bog that his family owns. Persecuted from every angle, he attempts to solve the mystery of the holes in his memory, as well as the guilt that filters through him like silt, and so he picks up the spade to help Séan and begins to dig deeper.

With more shades of grey than an E.L. James novel, but with actual depth, The Dig avoids straightforward character development like a pothole in the road. The narrative is gradually excavated as the film progresses, moving from almost pure visual storytelling, into unveiling strategies such as solely using the protagonist’s surname in an attempt to dehumanise him, evolving into the ponderous enigma that is the night in question. Stuart Drennan’s writing elegantly weaves Irish mythology into this murder mystery, as well as ties in a reference to the Old Croghan Man, a remarkably well-preserved Iron Age bog body found in Offaly in 2003. The use of earth tones and natural light mirror the land in which it is set, contrasting with the abnormality of the murderous act itself, as Angus Mitchell’s cinematography employs sparse, wide shots of the landscape, allowing us to bear witness to the magnitude of the job that Séan and Ronan have ahead of them.

Metaphor is integral to the plot, insisting that the viewer recognise clues and personality traits through the use of analogies and colour. Ronan is clearly the house to which he returns to, abandoned, decimated by locals, and previously coming apart at the seams with alcohol. The bog in which they search for Niamh’s body is peppered with holes, marked with red and blue flags, which cleverly hint to the conclusion. Except for the first one that Ronan encounters; a single white flag, a surrender, and an acceptance to whatever fate awaits him as he shovels his own war trench.

Although The Dig may not fulfil the plot-heavy murder mystery category that some people may hope for, the premise is both novel and consuming, as a murderer helps a grieving father search for that which he took from him. There is substance to be found in the pursuit as the Tohill’s have purposely devised a bleak visceral experience. Yet perhaps they should have stayed more in the realms of Seamus Heaney than Agatha Christie, as when they veer more towards the latter the plot becomes increasingly conventional and more shallow than their earlier narrative. Nevertheless, what they have created is a striated and near tangible experience rather than an affected whodunit.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com 

97 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 26th April 2019

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