The Voices

the-voices-sundance-2

DIR: Marjane Satrapi • WRI: Michael R. Perry •  PRO: Roy Lee, Matthew Rhodes, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Stéphane Roche • MUS: Olivier Bernet • DES: Udo Kramer • CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Humble reader, I come before you a conflicted man. There’s a lot to be said and to discuss about this movie and while I want to do that, that task will be near impossible without giving away some of the surprises the film has to offer. So the short version of the review is: go see it, go see it right now. I’m not going to go into specific plot spoilers but even talking broadly about what this film is referencing and the subjects it’s dealing with, will in its own way give away more than I sense the film wants you to know going in. If you enjoy pitch black comedies with incredible casts, that skirt the line of bad taste and occasionally trip over it and then repeatedly stab that line in self-disgust, this is the film for you.

Seemingly normal factory worker but secret crazy-person, Jerry (Reynolds) lives in a small, depressing town; spending his days shipping bathtubs before returning to his lonely apartment above a disused bowling alley. His only company being his dog, Bosco and cat, Mr Whiskers. Both of whom talk to him. Because you see, Jerry was only recently released from an asylum and has stopped taking his meds. When he’s tasked with helping organise an office party, he begins to fall for Fiona (Arterton) while attracting the attentions of Lisa (Kendrick). Drinks are had, dates are attempted, well-meaning intentions lead to… blood. Oh, so much blood.

This is one of those great movies that is clearly reminiscent of/influenced by/similar to numerous other films and yet still manages to stand out boldly on its own terms and contribute meaningfully to the genre(s) it inhabits. What starts off feeling like Ted, but funnier, sadder and with real mental health issues at its centre (and Reynolds at his most Walbergian) suddenly and violently detours into Tucker and Dale vs. Evil territory before subtly revealing its true form as a sort of Killer Joe as written and directed by Wes Anderson. And an ending which (don’t worry, I wouldn’t ruin for anyone) feels almost like an homage to the 1967 Casino Royale. There’s a lot going on, basically.

Even the genre feels difficult to pin down. Black comedy seems the most appropriate but then at times it goes so far and delves into such bleak, dark material that it becomes genuinely dramatically gripping and so emotionally raw that you have to wonder if the comedy is only a thin veneer with which to explore this subject-matter in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone. At its core, this is a character study of a serial killer but rather than going the muted, serious route of something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this forges ahead in the polar opposite direction. Satrapi’s familiar, stylised hyper-reality is here used as a wonderful piece of misdirection. The sickly, artificial, almost confection-like mise-en-scene (complete with a truly icky, squelchy sound design) means that when the audience, and Jerry, finally see ‘reality’, it hits like a punch to the stomach and you completely begin to question the ‘comedy’ portion of this black comedy.

The truly chilling thing about this film is that despite being really funny, this is potentially the most believable version of a serial killer and how/why they do what they do, to be put on screen in a while. Sure, it’s not ‘realistic’ and it can be highly abstract but making the logic of such a warped and psychologically damaged mind’s version of reality seem coherent, if not outright relatable, is a damn impressive feat. And there, equal credit is due to both Perry’s script and Satrapi’s direction with a healthy dose of praise to Reynolds’ performance and its impressive range. I won’t even touch the ending but it’s both weirdly perfect and utterly head-scratching in its oddness.

I honestly don’t know how a film like this gets made. If this were a small, independent film, in a foreign language and with a cast of nobodies then maybe. But with this cast, the overall level of talent on the production side and what appears to be a not insubstantial amount of money behind it; making a film as strange and potentially niche as this? Make no mistake, there will be people who are going to violently, passionately hate this movie. But I am not one of them.

 

Richard Drumm

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 minutes

The Voices is released 20th March 2015

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fKu_NMbNKM

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Cinema Review: Runner Runner

runner_runner_ben_affleck_a_l

 

DIR: Brad Furman • WRI: Brian Koppelman, David Levien • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran , Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Michael Shamberg , Stacey Sher • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Jeff McEvoy • DES: Charisse Cardenas • Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie

You go the cinema expecting an expose doc on the trainer industry and instead end up with a run of the mill thriller. Fittingly, this film is bizarrely akin to spending an hour and a half on a treadmill. Insofar as it expends a lot of energy but really doesn’t go anywhere. Not anywhere remotely interesting anyway.

Justin Timberlake takes a break from his music to play a Princeton grad student who takes a break from his studies to track down the shady big-wig behind an online poker empire. His crudely named character Richie Furst considers himself a bit of a whizz at virtual cards but takes major umbrage when he is cleared out online. Proving that you have to spend money to get money back, he takes off on a rather whimsical trip to Costa Rica to get his tuition fees reimbursed. Convinced that he has been ripped off, Richie intends to confront the mysterious businessman Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) behind an ultra successful cyber gambling site.

Disproportionally impressed by this bit of brio, Block naturally offers Richie the kind of Faustian pact that even blind blues musicians at a crossroads at midnight could see coming from a million miles away. Richie subsequently appears to develop a kind of ‘crime glaucoma’ where everything is rosy and legit right in front of his eyes but he inexplicably can’t see the major criminal edges of Block’s empire. Even subtle hints like Block feeding lumps of frozen meat to his pet crocodiles on a moonlit jetty fail to raise an eyebrow. It apparently takes a lot to sour Richie’s cheery worldview that mobsters, gamblers and prostitutes are all law-abiding all of the time.

With American law enforcement closing in on the exiled Block, soon Richie’s only choice is whether to be a stool pigeon for the Feds or a patsy for the bad guy. Perhaps his eureka moment arrived in a deleted scene where he rents ‘The Firm’ (the Tom Cruise one – not the Danny Dyer one) and follows its’ step by step guide to getting out of this exact same scenario. In fact, this entire film feels like one particular sequence from that thriller where Gene Hackman brought Cruiser down to the Caymans to corrupt him.

Trying to figure out the motivation of the actors for doing this rather feeble film is kind of fun. Timberlake is definitely committed to being serious about his thespian career. Protected by strong directors like Fincher in The Social Network, he can transmit his inherent charm through the camera with nonchalant ease. Nor is the onus of shouldering the central role brand new territory for him. He has borne the pressure of carrying a movie before and far better than here. Even in fluff like Friends with Benefits or In Time, he stretched himself and, to an extent, proved himself. In this, he looks uncomfortable and even that discomfort doesn’t feed into the nervous energy that the character should emit at pivotal moments.

Whereas ostensible female lead Gemma Arterton needs exposure in big American releases so her agenda is obvious and understandable though the resultant pallid role never taps into her considerable talents. For Affleck, you’d have to suspect the pay cheque was more tempting than the material. An opening speech about exile aside, there’s no depth or context to Block’s villainy. Maybe Affleck got to write Argo 2 on location in the tropics but the outstanding question then becomes what exactly does an audience get out of Runner Runner?

Precious little is the answer unless you’re in the most forgiving form of your life. It may just suffice as a sun kissed slice of distraction but in reality, there’s not a beat of this story that isn’t predictable or even tries to subvert the overly familiar.

Admittedly this is glib but if someone suggests going to Runner Runner, do a runner in the opposite direction.

James Phelan

15A (See IFCO for details)

95 mins
Runner Runner is released on 27th September 2013

Runner Runner – Official Website

 

http://www.runnerrunnermovie.com/index.html

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Cinema Review: Byzantium

Byzantium, film

 

DIR: Neil Jordan  WRI: Moira Buffini • PRO: Sam Englebardt, William D. Johnson, Elizabeth Karlsen, Alan Moloney, Stephen Woolley • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Tony Lawson • DES: Simon Elliott • Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley

 

Neil Jordan returns to cinemas for the first time in four years with this neo-gothic vampire tale, just as that particular genre begins to sink below the zeitgeist waves. We are now post-Twilight, with True Blood and The Vampire Diaries in their second death throes.

 

But there’s life in the undead dog yet. Jim Jarmusch’s revisionist vampire art-house romcom Only Lovers Left Alive just received deserved praise at Cannes, and while Jordan’s work is flawed, it’s an admirable piece of cinema nevertheless. And why shouldn’t Jordan latch on at the last moment – his 1994 take on the myth, Interview with the Vampire, is as much responsible for the vampire boom that flowed from Buffy to Twilight as any film.
 
The film stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as a wandering mother/daughter vampire team, Clara and Eleanor, constantly on the move to evade from those who would uncover their true identities, and those who already know it. A moral pair, they work as sort of Angels of Death, only feeding on the terminally ill or the extremely elderly – a form of vampiric euthanasia. Clara, eternally voluptuous, trades on her body to keep the duo in housing and out of trouble. Eleanor, eternally 16, searches for meaning in her never-ending life, tortured internally by the things she has seen and done.Their wanderings bring them full circle to the sleepy English seaside town where their story began 150 years earlier, prompting a series of fractured flashbacks that give us a glimpse into their pasts. Clara’s being condemned to imprisonment in a brothel in her earlier life is echoed as she turns a run-down hotel in the present, named Byzantium, into a whorehouse with herself as madam. Eleanor starts at a new school where her creative writing assignments draw suspicious glances and her relationship with sickly classmate Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) causes her cursed heart to skip a beat.
 
A gorgeous production, shot in some curious locations, Byzantium looks as good as anything Neil Jordan has made before. Ever-reliable cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Hunger, Shame) excels in lighting the dark and murky streets of modern Britain, while sadly bringing little life to its nineteenth century counterpart. Perhaps the most in-your-face achievement of Byzantium is the remarkable varieties of ways the crew have found to light and shoot Gemma Arterton’s cleavage. Jordan has never been one to shy away from sexuality, but here the obsession with Arterton’s bosom is beyond distracting, the centre point of far too many frames. In one of the film’s most dramatic sequences, a vampire’s birth is heralded by a Shining-like cascade of blood, in which Arterton bathes, her cleavage overflowing with blood. Her cups literally runneth over with blood.

In spite of scene-stealing competition from her cleavage, Arterton holds much of the film together with an impressively committed performance. Ronan is ever reliable as a disenfranchised youth, and her sighs and longing glances carry her character’s tragedy. Sadly, she remains utterly unconvincing in romantic roles, and paired with the zombified Jones, sporting a Danish (?) accent that is baffling to the ears, makes for some very awkward drama. Johnny Lee Miller minces amusingly as the Victorian villain, while Control’s Sam Riley is horrendously underutilised in a supporting role.

One of Byzantium’s great saving graces is in its lightly sketched mythology, introducing its vampires as an underground cabal of male vampires who do not approve of females amongst their ranks, and forbid them to be makers. The idea of an ancient sect of fundamentalist chauvinists throws up cute allusions to the Catholic Church, although despite their intimidation it is hard to suppress a guffaw when they introduce themselves as ‘The Pointed Nails of Justice’.

Lovely to look at for the most part, adequately acted and with an impressive score by Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth), Byzantium will not be one of Jordan’s best remembered films, but it is a welcome return to the gothic for the Irish filmmaker. While the ending feels rushed and features one excessively under-explained character reversal, there is enough in the film to keep the attention throughout.

A mobile phone vibrating in a puddle of blood, for example. There’s something we haven’t seen before.

David Neary

15A (see IFCO website for details)

118 mins
Byzantium is released on 31st May 2013

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Cinema Review: Song for Marion

 

DIR/WRI: Paul Andrew Williams  •  PRO: Philip Moross  • DOP: Carlos Catalán • ED: Dan Farrell • DES: Sophie Becher • CAST: Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston, Terence Stamp
 

The market for the ‘Grey Pound’, as the over 60s cinema goers are so delicately referred to as, has gained more attention from film marketers in recent years. With the film industry struggling to make revenues in the modern download era, any group that will attend the cinemas regularly are rapidly being catered for. This is good news for both older cinema goers who want to see issues they care about tackled on film and older actors who struggle to find meaty roles. Recent films The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet are successful examples of this genre. Song for Marion certainly ticks all the boxes of a ‘Grey Pound’ film, with the majority of the cast in the over 60 age bracket. It tells the story of Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), an optimistic woman in the autumn of her life striving to live her last days with all the joy she can fit in.

Marion is a member of an unconventional choir who, guided by the young teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), enjoy performing alternative songs in their community hall. The more gripping story of this film is that of Marion’s husband Arthur (Terence Stamp) who is the opposite of his wife; a classic grumpy old man who belittles her choir and lively friends, while still caring for her in her illness with the sweetness of a life-long love. Arthur’s struggles are played with a deep emotional tenderness and strength by Terence Stamp, especially when we see his approach to the different relationships in his life.

Stamp and Redgrave’s acting capabilities make this film stand out and they bring a much needed touch of reality to the roles, which should attract all viewers to the film, not just the specific target market. Song for Marion is definitely on the sentimental side and wraps the ending up into a fairly neat and predictable package, but the strong acting of the leads ensures we care about these characters and their story.

 

Ailbhe O Reilly

PG (see IFCO website for details)
93mins
Song for Marion is released on 22nd February 2013

 

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Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe

DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: Moira Buffini • PRO: Alison Owen, Tracey Seaward, Paul Trijbits • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Mick Audsley • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Tamsin Greig, Bill Camp

Tamara Drewe is set in a quaint, sleepy English village. Although I don’t know if anybody actually gets any sleep there because both village and film are filled to bursting with a variety of characters all clamouring for attention, not all getting it, not all deserving it. Tamara Drewe herself is one of the least interesting. Tamara, forgettably played by Gemma Arterton, has returned to the village where she grew up to sell her mother’s house and she immediately sparks with her old boyfriend Andy (Luke Evans).

Meanwhile Beth Hardiment (Tamsin Greig) runs a writers’ retreat with her crime novelist husband Nicholas (Roger Allam) and has just discovered his infidelity. Beth’s story is far more successfully told than Tamara’s. She is very well played by Greig as a woman who is far too intelligent to long accept a life of comfortable denial. Her growing friendship with American academic Glen (Bill Camp) is nicely observed as is the rivalry between Glen and Nicholas. They play a game of snide one-gunmanship, of commercial success versus academic achievement. Allam is wonderfully repulsive but just charismatic enough for his cheating to be believable. It also helps Beth’s story that she is surrounded by a gang of eccentric writers. By the time Tamara meets up with self-obsessed indie-rocker Ben Sherman (Dominic Cooper) you’ll be screaming ‘What happened to Bronagh Gallager’s lesbian novelist?’ Sure she’s a stereotype, but then almost everyone in this movie is and she does it so well.

But the film insists on focusing on the most boring love triangle in history as Tamara is pursued by Andy and Ben. And in case we don’t know who to root for the film makes that decision for us. Swoon, ladies and gentlemen, as we see Andy making rustic fences with his shirt off, watch him picking wild mushrooms for breakfast and know what a good provider he will be, and gasp in awe as he offers – offers! – to look over colour charts. Arterton doesn’t give us any insight into Tamara’s motivations, Cooper is equally dull, and the plotline runs out of steam after about two minutes.

Frears’ direction is lush and the film is certainly nice to look at. It would probably make good viewing for a rainy afternoon. After all there is, literally, a good story in here. I suggest you wait for the DVD release, make a nice cup of tea and enjoy Beth Hardiment. You’ll find it in your video store under T.

Geoff McEvoy

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Tamara Drewe
is released on 10th September 2010

Tamara Drewe Official Website

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