Talking Movies

October 29, 2014

Six Days of the Rising

824

Web Summit, Image Now Productions, and Indiegogo are launching a crowd-funding campaign for new film Six Days of the Rising, helmed by acclaimed director Nick Ryan, at Web Summit 2014.

Old and new worlds will collide at the Web Summit when Nick Ryan (Director-Producer of award-winning documentary The Summit) launches a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo for his latest film on the 1916 Easter Rising. In front of an audience of 20,000 attendees at the Web Summit, Europe’s largest festival of tech and ideas, Nick Ryan and Danae Ringelmann, founder of Indiegogo, will discuss crowd-funding in films on the Marketing Summit Stage on Tuesday 4th November.

The funds raised through the Indiegogo campaign page will go towards script and visual concept development to bring the Dublin of 1916 before, during, and after The Rising to cinematic life. In addition to contributing to the realisation of the feature people who subscribe to the fund will also be entitled to certain perks including vintage stamps, personalised newspapers, medals, and limited edition copies of the original storyboards for the movie. The campaign will go live on Saturday November 1.

Six Days of the Rising will be an explosive and gripping account of an epochal moment in history, exploring the human cost of insurrection in a time of great change. The Easter Rising was a pivotal moment in world history, arguably making an independent India inevitable, as a six day war was fought skilfully by a group of rebels against 16,000 troops of the largest empire in the world. Brutal, honest, violent and uncompromising, in the taut documentary style of Bloody Sunday and The Battle of Algiers, acclaimed director Nick Ryan will recreate this epic fight for independence and the destruction of Dublin onscreen as never before seen. And, given recent ahistoric attempts to portray 1916 as a mistake because 1918 would have seen all-island Home Rule, this is a chance to ensure that the foundation of the Republic receives its due cinematic commemoration during this decade of vital centenaries.

The movie will be part-funded through an Indiegogo campaign that will launch around The Web Summit, and is scheduled to go into production in early 2015. Nick Ryan is a founding director of Image Now Films, and has directed and produced the acclaimed Sundance award-winning feature documentary The Summit about the K2 tragedy involving Ger McDonnell. That film went on to win seven other major awards as well as an IFTA for best feature documentary. Nick also wrote, directed, and produced the award winning short film A Lonely Sky, and in 2008 wrote and directed the award winning The German.

wide-mainstage

Miranda Fleming, of Indiegogo UK Film & Creative says, “I’m in awe of the creativity coming from our European filmmakers and Nick Ryan’s latest project, Six Days of the Rising, is just another example of this. For Nick to select Indiegogo as his crowd-funding platform of choice and to kick off the campaign at Dublin Web Summit speaks volumes. As part of Indiegogo’s ongoing commitment to support talented filmmakers and the creative community worldwide, we’re excited to provide his campaign the support it needs to reach the largest global audience.” Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit founder, is equally enthusiastic: “I’m delighted to have Nick speak at the Web Summit, his approach to film-making is always innovative and compelling. His work and this initiative fit perfectly with calibre of speakers we have on film and tech this year which includes Tim Webber who won an Oscar for his special effects on Gravity.”

Nick Ryan himself says, “Recreating the Dublin of 1916 will require the representation of the city before and after the immense destruction. The city is a character in the film and we believe that accuracy in the geography and look of the building is essential. To enable this we intend to create a very large exterior stage with the appropriate cobblestone street and lower level structure combined with 100ft high blue/green screen backgrounds, and composite authentic models of the surrounding buildings in the various stages of destruction. Rather than focusing on the leaders of the Rising, we will portray the events from the perspective of a man whose journey across the barricaded city brings him in contact with both sides of the conflict. We will bring a level of authenticity to the production that like The Summit, puts you firmly on the ground during the extraordinary events of Easter 1916”.

Web Summit is Europe’s largest festival of ideas, and has been dubbed “Davos for geeks.” Founded in 2010, the event has grown exponentially; and this year will host more than 20,000 attendees and guests in Dublin on November 4th- 6th, with over 1,100 journalists from more than 70 countries covering proceedings. Over the past three years, Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, SpaceX and PayPal), Niklas Zennström (founder of Skype), Reed Hastings (founder of Netflix), David Karp (founder of Tumblr), Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter and Square), and Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim (co-founders of YouTube) have been speakers at the Web Summit. Some of the 600 speakers this year include Peter Thiel (co-founder of Paypal and Palantir as well as the first investor in Facebook), Drew Houston (founder of Dropbox), Brendan Iribe (CEO of Oculus), and TV producer Eva Longoria.

Indiegogo is the largest global crowd-funding platform. Campaigns have launched from almost every country around the world, with millions of dollars being distributed every week due to contributions made by the Indiegogo community. Indiegogo is dedicated to democratizing the way people raise funds for any project – creative, entrepreneurial, or cause-related. The company was launched in 2008 and is (unsurprisingly) headquartered in San Francisco. For more information, visit www.indiegogo.com or follow it at http://www.twitter.com/indiegogo and www.facebook.com/indiegogo.

October 24, 2014

Bram Stoker Festival 2014

images

You may have noticed something odd about O’Connell Street. Something a bit off about the statues: red eyes, little Dracula capes. It can only be Bram Stoker Festival 2014 time!

The Performance Coporation aka Big House have been given the reins of the Bram Stoker Festival this year – and are goth-ing it up!

Film premières focus on the Goth music movement of the 1980s with Beautiful Noise  and The Cure in Orange, the Abbey Theatre’s on-site costume store is providing capes for the unmissable Shapeshifters Ball by Body&Soul at IMMA in association with Bram Stoker Festival. There’s an unusually anarchic literary event with the Literary Death Match on Saturday night. And go under the city with Gothic Underground… There are whispers of a mysterious tunnel under the Phoenix Park, but some of us have heard more than we dare let on… Is it real?  Where does it go?  Now is your chance to find out the truth… With music by Tom Lane and directed by Maeve Stone, this unique performance rattles under the city for one night only.

The Zombie V Goth Dance-Off has recruited dancers online to work with Megan Kennedy of junk ensemble. Dressed in their finest bloody threads and having to chosen to dance with the goths or walk among the dead.  This will be a dance off unlike anything seen before.  And possibly the most demented feature of all – fall with style across the city centre: The Vampwire is a golden ticket offering – register here for the chance of a free caped flight. The Vampwire is a real and slightly scary opportunity to make like a Count transformed into a bat and zip over the city. Suitable for most ages (if not all constitutions) tickets for Dublin’s first city-centre zip wire are free, but in high-demand, and golden tickets will be allocated by ballot.

The opening film première is the extraordinary Curse of Styria featuring Stephen Rea and Eleanor Tomlinson. Directors Mauricio Chernovetzky & Mark Devendorf will be in attendance at this “suspenseful, secretive, sexy and sinister” film. Inspired by Carmilla, the seminal 19th Century vampire novella by Dublin writer Sheridan LeFanu, this film plunges the viewer into a haunted world of fantasy & obsession. Near Gone is a beautiful show which just won a Total Theatre Award in Edinburgh. Two performers have a difficult story to tell… Delivered in English and Bulgarian, with pounding gypsy-inspired music, this beautiful performance fills an empty space with two performers, hundreds of fresh flowers and a storm of emotion. And The Performance Corporation (proper) is reprising The Judge’s House  for Marsh’s Library – already fully booked already, but there may be returns on the door.

The closing event is an encounter with the extraordinary Macnas, who take to the streets of Dublin as mercurial tailors with a glee for stitching laughter to darkness, summoning monsters and marvels from drains, lanes and street corners.  Creatures, characters, contortions dissolve and are remade and revealed.

Full details on www.bramstokerfestival.com

October 23, 2014

The Babadook

1399881005889.jpg-620x349

Writer/director Jennifer Kent makes an impressive debut with this assured psychological horror about a widow struggling with her difficult son.

Amelia (Essie Davis) works as a nurse at a nursing home, but her exhaustion is beginning to show. Her husband died in a car crash leaving her to raise their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) alone. And he is truly a problem child. He has no social filters, informing total strangers that his father died while driving Amelia to the hospital to have him, sets traps all around the house to catch imaginary monsters, which he’s still scared of despite being nearly 7, and brings lethal crossbows to school without a second thought, resulting in major disciplinary action. When she reads him children’s book The Babadook she is aghast at its sinister content. Giving Robbie sedatives for his new nightmares and terror-related seizures she also takes medication, and so begins a slow dance of mental disintegration – can The Babadook be real?

Australia has never looked so awful, and that’s a huge compliment. Kent and cinematographer Radek Ladczuk cast a washed out blue-gray look over proceedings that combine with the creakiest house in existence to make South Australia look like darkest Gothic Yorkshire. Davis starred in the TV adaptation of The Slap, another Australian exploration of children who are every prospective parent’s worst nightmare. Indeed Amelia’s sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney) bluntly explains why she never visits: “I can’t stand to be around your son, and you know what, neither can you.” Wiseman’s habit of grimacing in a way that looks like grinning, and panting in distress, is sensationally disturbing; after gravely injuring a girl everyone sees it as a malevolent grin. Davis is on top form. Her longing for husband Oskar (Benjamin Winspear), her frustration, exhaustion, despair, rage – all are viscerally conveyed.

The Babadook is a wonderful exercise in ambiguity and dread, a psychological horror of the highest calibre with a meaty dramatic through-line. Kent stages a number of jump-scares, inserts the obligatory demonisation of sexual desire as catalyst for Dionysian horror, and blurs the line gloriously between whose perception we’re experiencing when Amelia goes Mommie Dearest. Amelia starts to medicate herself and Samuel for their nervous exhaustion, and this allows magnificent ambiguity; are they hallucinating or is The Babadook real? When she tries to report that someone is stalking her to a police officer, and acts erratic in front of concerned neighbour Mrs Roach (Barbara West), you have the feeling this will be damning evidence that she’d gone off her rocker, after she guts Samuel; the explicit wish of The Babadook. And you further fear that this horror might go there…

The Babadook runs out of places to go once it admits the supernatural at a very late stage, but its combination of taboo drama and spine-tingling dread and ambiguity mark it as sophisticated horror.

4/5

October 17, 2014

Northern Soul

Northern-Soul-5_LARGE

Acclaimed photographer Elaine Constantine makes an assured cinematic debut with a tale of two teenagers in the Northern Soul scene.

John (Elliot James Langridge) is a shy teenager in a dismal Lancashire town in economically depressed and culturally depressing 1974. He’s happy writing poetry, and spending time with his beloved Grandad (Ricky Tomlinson), but his mother (Lisa Stansfield!) is insistent that he should get out more. Dad (Christian McKay) doesn’t really want to get drawn into any strife… John unwillingly goes to the local youth club, only to be dazzled by the dance moves that Matt (Josh Whitehouse) performs to the unusual soundtrack of Edwin Starr’s Time. Impulsively saving Matt from a beating John pretends he knows what Northern Soul is to spend more time with this charismatic outsider. Pretty soon John knows Northern Soul inside out, is going to amphetamine-fuelled Wigan Casino dances, and plotting a trip to America with Matt to ransack obscure vinyl for their DJ gigs.

Northern Soul is a familiar type of story told against an unusual backdrop. Matt is the dazzlingly charismatic hero who brings the diffident observer John out of his shell to the point that he stands up to abrasive teacher Mr Banks (Steve Coogan), winks at his crush Angela (Antonia Thomas) on the bus instead of pining away, and thinks nothing of popping the endless supply of pills that cockney Sean (Jack Gordon) thinks necessary for their Wigan nights. But the backdrop is something we’ve not seen before. Ray Henderson (James Lance) the Wigan DJ has enormous street-cred for his ‘cover-up’; a stonking tune that he refuses to reveal the identity of to his listeners; and the quest to unmask the cover-up fuels the rise of John as a DJ. Indeed he’s obviously a better DJ than the foul-mouthed graceless Matt.

Writer/director Elaine Constantine makes Northern Soul look fantastic for its budget, especially the long sweep over the dancers when we see the Wigan Casino bacchanalia for the first time. She also makes excellent use of a limited amount of classic Northern Soul music by playing out the songs in full over lengthy montages. At the same time she draws excellent performances from the actors. Gordon is on fire as the rambunctious Sean, Whitehouse is instantly attractive as rebellious Matt, and Langridge makes John’s transformation completely believable. Ultimately Northern Soul becomes a bromance, as Angela isn’t nearly as important, or worth a grand rom-com gesture, as Matt. Henderson pushes John away from Matt by insisting that Matt holds him back as a DJ, and Sean blames Matt’s big mouth for unwanted narc attention, leading to some unexpected suspense before the finale.

The story is just a bit familiar, but it’s told with such avowed sincerity that Northern Soul might just be a very belated Quadrophenia for the Northern Soul set.

3.5/5

October 15, 2014

’71 – 7 Dispatches

8510367_orig

1. Holmes

Belfast native David Holmes has composed the grooving soundtrack for a lot of good films with an eye for suspense and action, being Steven Soderbergh’s go-to-guy. But I don’t think he’s done 1970s synth menace before, and when he unleashes it in the third act to long takes and tracking shots of people stalking the endless concourses in The Divis block of flats it ratchets up the tension.

2. Scott

I love it when actors play the extremes of their range in a single year, and Killian Scott does it here. Scott had the funniest scenes in Calvary as misfit Milo, convinced that being homicidal would be a plus for the army – ‘like an engineering degree’. As the ruthless emerging IRA leader Quinn in ’71 he seems older, tougher, and even almost taller so complete is the transformation.

3. Dredd/Dread

’71 is so unpredictable that you don’t expect Chekhov’s rifles. And yet one pops up. “You can use the Divis as an orientation point, but don’t go inside the flats. It’s an IRA stronghold” the soldiers are told at their briefing. So of course Gary wakes up to find himself on one the top floors of The Divis, with the IRA coming up, and guarding all possible exits…

4. In-Country

“You know where Belfast is, right? Northern Ireland. United Kingdom. Same country. You’re not leaving the country” the deploying soldiers are informed. Well… they kind of are. Gary’s complete bafflement at the sectarian madness that greets him in Belfast almost satirises Thatcher’s infamous contention that Northern Ireland was just as British as Finchley. This isn’t so much not leaving the country, as going in-country in the Vietnam sense…

5. Football/Religion

One of the funny moments of the film comes when Jack O’Connell’s protagonist has his named parsed: Gary Hook, obviously Protestant. Just to confirm he’s not a Taig, he’s asked by his foul-mouthed child protector if he is a Protestant. “Uh, I dunno.” “You don’t know?! Now I’ve heard everything.” Later he demurs any possible Nottingham connection, “Darbyshire and Nottingham don’t really get on.” “Why?” “Don’t know really.”

6. Collusion

’71 initially surprises by using the Troubles almost as an incidental backdrop for an urban survival thriller. But then it really surprises in its acknowledgement of the North’s Dirty War. British military intelligence officers are depicted both training loyalists in bomb-making, and talking to leaders of the IRA. ’71 just takes it for granted that this is what happened, something which would outrage Daily Mail blowhard Peter Hitchens.

7. Reed

Black Watch playwright Gregory Burke and TV director Yann Demange (Dead Set, Criminal Justice) make an arresting cinematic debut with this movie – tense, sharply scripted, and directed with disorienting and dazzling flair. And praise doesn’t come much higher than saying it reminded me of another film about a wounded man in Belfast falling in with people with agendas of their own – Carol Reed’s 1947 classic Odd Man Out.

October 8, 2014

Spinning

SPINNING-DTFestival

Karl Shiels, Fiona Bell, Caitriona Ennis and Janet Moran are the weighty cast in Fishamble’s contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival; a meditation on grief.

Conor (Shiels) arrives unannounced in an unnamed small town and heads for the seaside cafe run by Susan (Bell), who nearly collapses from shock – as he is the man responsible for the death of her teenage daughter Annie (Caitriona Ennis) some years before. Conor has just been released from prison for his role in her death, and has come to return Annie’s locket; and to try and explain what happened. Flashbacks that disrupt their confrontation help the audience piece together the closeness of Susan and Annie, and the courtship, marriage and divorce of Conor and Jen (Janet Moran). As more and more pieces of the puzzle are thrown at us the imminence and inevitability of tragedy weighs down on us; leading to a merciful lie and perhaps a suicide after that redemptive gesture – perhaps not; the crashing waves are ambiguous.

Sabine Dargent’s set impressionistically creates a seaside cafe with table and chairs on a raised platform; but for all other scenes the audience has to do the heavy lifting. Jim Culleton’s direction focuses attention on the great actors, but they’re not miracle workers. Deirdre Kinahan has crafted an intelligent structure, but unlike Our Few and Evil Days she hasn’t filled the structure with any surprising content. Susan and Annie’s close relationship is uncomfortably akin to Gilmore Girls, down to the decent absent father having proposed marriage and been rejected before fleeing; in this case to Melbourne. Annie is a less adorable and smart version of Rory Gilmore; and her plea that they should move to Melbourne because “Our life here is totally crap!” is unintentionally funny; even though Ennis essays a spirited teenager and Bell adeptly alternates tender with traumatised.

Spinning is so rife with cliché that it doesn’t reprise Kramer Vs Kramer or Blue Valentine so much as it descends to the level of soap opera. Moran is awful because she’s given a shrill social-climbing cipher to play. The pantomime ‘oooh!’ reaction of the audience to Conor’s “I let you go back to work” was particularly depressing. Jen insists they pay for a crèche rather than let Conor’s mother babysit, she volubly disparages his family business before happily snaffling up money and house derived from it, and full custody of daughter Kate to boot (odd that people still seriously talk about patriarchy when such sexism is legally enshrined by the courts daily isn’t it?). But all this was seemingly outweighed in the audience’s estimation by Conor’s line, even though she went back to work late hours with her ex-boyfriend.

Spinning is only 75 minutes long, yet I found myself almost checking a phantom wristwatch from its first scene; it was that quickly obvious that this wasn’t top drawer.

1/5

Spinning continues its run at Smock Alley until the 12th of October.

October 7, 2014

Bailegangaire

bailegangaire

DruidMurphy returns to the Dublin Theatre Festival with an enthralling revival of Tom Murphy’s 1985 play of storytelling and crisis.

The ailing elderly Mommo (Marie Mullen) lies propped up against the pillows in her bed, which is in the middle of the kitchen of a small house. She is nursed by her granddaughter Mary (Catherine Walsh), who gets little thanks for her ministrations; Mommo does not recognise her, and treats her as a servant. Mommo’s mind is instead in the past, telling the same story every night, a story she never finishes; about how the town of Bochtan became known as Bailegangaire, and why no one there over the age of reason ever laughs. Mary is driven to distraction by this, and when her abrasive sister Dolly (Aisling O’Sullivan) arrives on her motorbike, they fight over Mary’s responsibilities towards Mommo, and Dolly’s abusive husband Stephen, until Dolly becomes oddly determined to make Mommo finally tell her story to its conclusion.

I wasn’t familiar with Bailegangaire, and so found the first act rather disorienting. Mommo’s continually interrupted story about Bochtan’s finest laugher and the challenge of a stranger at the fair that he had a better laugh was exceedingly hard to keep track of, but in the second act as Mommo is driven by Mary to finish the story and as Rick Fisher’s lights single in on Mommo it becomes quite mesmerising as the laughing competition is relayed; with its outcome told before its conduct in a charmingly perverse move. Bailegangaire is also quite scabrous. Mommo uses a bedpan at length, Dolly roars off on her motorbike for a quickie with her lover, and Murphy gifts Dolly, Mary, and Mommo a fair quota of earthy insults. Mullen alternates nicely between demanding requests, shy requests, and malicious moments in her challenging role.

But despite the monologist storytelling by Mommo, this is very much a three-hander. Walsh makes viscerally evident Mary’s despair; she needs to escape but she can’t escape because the conditions which create the need also prevent its execution – her crippling familial duty to care for the oblivious Mommo. O’Sullivan is on fine form as the swaggering but damaged Dolly, but her accent overplayed hoarse Whesth of Ireland. Francis O’Connor’s impeccably realist set disappears into darkness at roof level, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design renders passing cars practically just past its wall, but director Garry Hynes is focused on the performances. Murphy’s play has a Beckettian quality, with its narration that has to be continually forlornly attempted, but it’s rooted firmly in the 1980s; yet its zeitgeist undercurrents of new technology and crises with multinationals seem to collapse that thirty-year gap.

My fellow academics Graham Price and Tom Walker, both previously mentioned in dispatches here, dubbed Bailegangaire Happy Days as Irish kitchen sink drama’. I’m not about to disagree, Murphy’s unexpectedly redemptive storytelling is towering.

4/5

October 6, 2014

Our Few and Evil Days

unnamed

Ciaran Hinds and Sinead Cusack, so successful in Juno and the Paycock back in 2011, reunite as a more contemporary but equally troubled married couple; whose headstrong daughter brings home an equally superficially attractive paramour.

Michael (Hinds) and Margaret (Cusack) are a loving couple in a Dublin suburb who no longer share a bedroom. The wordless opening of both acts sees Michael come downstairs to wake her up, and then put away mattress and pillows and switch the pull-out bed back to a sofa while she dresses upstairs. Yet their obvious devotion to each other is noticed and commented on by unexpected visitor Dennis (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), who has been placed in the awkward position of meeting the parents solo by Adele (Charlie Murphy) running off to help her friend Belinda thru yet another crisis. Dennis inevitably makes a faux pas, about Adele’s absent brother, Jonathan; something teased out, along with Belinda’s crises, when Adele arrives for a very late dinner. But when Adele leaves again Dennis is convinced to stay over by Michael, and so when Dennis gets up for a drink of water he falls over Margaret; and their conversation about Jonathan becomes… disturbing.

Our Few and Evil Days is hard to review without ruining the effect of Mark O’Rowe’s mischievous structure. My lead-in was mischievous in mentioning O’Casey, because this is clearly in the vein of two other playwrights. The interrupting and sharply back and forth dialogue owes a debt to David Mamet, and the stellar cast, once they’ve warmed up to it (almost), embrace its rhythms with gusto. Meanwhile Harold Pinter’s comedy of menace rumbles under the attempts of naively nice guy Dennis to make a good impression. As director O’Rowe is also mischievous, casting Ian-Lloyd Anderson against type as Belinda’s abusive boyfriend Gary, by muting the physical menace he displayed in Major Barbara and instead playing up epic self-pity. This is a solidly middle-class setting courtesy of Paul Wills’ fully functioning set; with stairs behind the glass doors from the sitting room to the hall, a laundry area behind the kitchen, and a working sink (the final pre-Irish Water set design?).

Unfortunately such an impressive deeply layered set necessitates the removal of the first four rows of seats, so row E gets pasted up against the stage; and during Dennis and Margaret’s pivotal scene sitting at the kitchen table you are listening to a table emote because you can’t see Margaret’s face at all… O’Rowe’s play comprises three scenes either side of the interval; but where uncomfortable comedy dominates the first act, Freudian nightmares, shouting matches, and pop-analysis dominate the second. This gives the impression by the end that some characters have merely acted as plot devices to push the most important characters into dramatic screaming matches, and that much of the comedy has been a red herring. This doesn’t really matter though when actors of the calibre of Hinds, Cusack, Murphy and Vaughan-Lawlor are giving it their all. Vaughan-Lawlor clearly relishes playing against ‘Nidge’, Cusack is endearingly earthy, Hinds is sympathetically conflicted, and Murphy impressively alternates between wounded and wounding.

O’Rowe’s script has a fearful symmetry, great comedy, and touches on true darkness, but is perhaps a bit too full of misdirection. It’s possible to see future productions simply fall apart with lesser actors.

4/5

Our Few and Evil Days continues its run at the Abbey until the 25th of October.

October 2, 2014

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn streamlines her twisting novel for David Fincher who turns into a 2 ½ hour thriller so utterly absorbing that it simply flies by.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) owns a bar in Carthage, Missouri with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Except, he doesn’t really own it – it’s in his wife’s name. In fact pretty much everything is in the name of trust-fund Amy (Rosamund Pike). So when Amy goes missing on their 5th wedding anniversary, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) find it hard not to suspect Nick of murdering her. Nick maintains that NYC girl Amy had no friends in his hometown, seemingly unaware that shrill Noelle (Casey Wilson) was BFFs with Amy; and has photos to prove it. Nick seems distant with Amy’s peculiar writer parents Rand (David Clennon) and Marybeth (Lisa Banes), and his affair with the much younger Andie (Emily Ratajkowski) only copper-fastens his guilt; as proclaimed by cable anchor Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle).

Gone Girl is like those Ira Levin novels Stephen King praised where there wasn’t a twist at the end, more a pivot in the middle, which made it hard to discuss without ruining. Flynn’s screenplay simplifies her novel without losing its punch, indeed her streamlining improves on its latter meandering. Fincher, particularly in staging parallel reactions to a crucial TV interview, brings out black comedy that isn’t as readily apparent in the book; making this a satire on trial by media. When Amy’s traditional anniversary treasure hunt leads to incriminating evidence Nick as much as confirms his guilt by hiring legendary defence counsel, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry). And comedian Perry’s stunt casting pays off in spades as he brings a warmth to the part not present in the book. Meanwhile Neil Patrick Harris, as Amy’s obsessive ex Desi, leaves his comfort zone for a suggestion of true creepiness. Pike showcases iciness and intelligence, while Affleck is fantastic as the hapless everyman; who we root for despite his flaws. Fincher is the kind of director who, with his endless takes, wrings great performances from actors like Affleck too often content to coast; and this should quash sceptical mutterings about Affleck’s Batman.

Affleck is helped by being half of a great double act. Margo was always going to be a great part, and Coon breaks out from theatre with her glorious turn as the spiky voice of reason. Amazingly, this is the first Fincher movie I’ve ever reviewed, and it’s a prime cut. His regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth stages two fever dream scenes of arresting beauty, in a sugar storm and a snow storm, while a pull-out shot at a truck stop is made strangely gorgeous. Otherwise we’re in that under-lit threatening world of The Social Network and Fight Club’s abrasive social commentary. Fincher’s customary editor Kirk Baxter and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross all join him in whooping it up in a grand guignol scene that keeps fading out and returning, again and again, as the music screeches as much as the more squeamish members of the audience. The squeamish are also treated to two other scenes, including some business with a hammer, which are that peculiar Hitchcock-plus of Fincher dark comedy. Reznor and Atticus’s score is dominated by intrusive melancholy piano, and then the electronic clicks and screeches we’ve come to expect – and that perfectly fit Fincher’s unsettling universe.

David Fincher is one of the most distinctive directors working in cinema, and this knockout punch is, with Dallas Buyers Club and Boyhood, one of the movies of 2014.

5/5

October 1, 2014

Life After Beth

life-after-beth-beth-and-zach

Dane DeHaan had never made a comedy before this film. I’m not sure he still hasn’t made a comedy after starring in Life After Beth.

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) is inconsolable with grief after his girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) dies from a snakebite while on a solo hike in the hills. Despite the best efforts of his abrasive security guard brother Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), and his helicopter parents Judy (Cheryl Hines) and Noah (Paul Reiser), nothing can shake him out of his gloom. Instead he spends his time with Beth’s parents, playing chess and smoking weed with Maury (John C Reilly), and going thru Beth’s clothes with Geenie (Molly Shannon). So far so Moonlight Mile. But when the Slocums’ Haitian maid Pearline (Eva La Dare) flees town, it’s not long before a horde of zombies appears, heralded by a returned Beth – who has no memory of dying, and is now super-strong, insanely jealous of Zach’s reappeared childhood friend Erica (Anna Kendrick), and increasingly hungry…

Warm Bodies approached the conundrum of how you make a romantic comedy with zombies by making the zombies not zombies. Life After Beth keeps the zombies as zombies and instead ditches the romantic comedy aspect. Which can’t be intentional, can it? There are so many good actors onboard that you feel something has gone disastrously wrong. Reiser is more likeable than I’ve ever seen him, and Gubler is fantastically obnoxious. But the lead performances don’t match them. Plaza presumably signed on for eating people and blowing up a lifeguard post, but, while she has fun with the physical shtick, the role mutes her comedic grouchiness. DeHaan’s everyman is ill-served by the puzzling script. What should be deadpan just turns out blank. Reacting blankly to absurd situations does not by itself provide comedy, there does need to be jokes in addition.

Writer/director Jeff Baena co-wrote I Heart Huckabees which makes it all the more baffling what the hell went wrong because he’s not a man short of comedic invention. Technically everyone is at the top of their game. Jay Hunter, who was the DP for Joss Whedon’s crisply monochrome Much Ado About Nothing, bathes this gated community in a sunlight wonderfully inapt for a zombie horror; again displaying flair on a shoestring. Kudos must also go to the casting directors (Nicole Daniels and Courtney Sheinin) who realised that with the right haircut DeHaan and Gubler are perfect as brothers. But technical competence and solid acting can only get you so far. By the end when a gratuitously naked female zombie appears you’re not sure if it’s a ham-fisted nod to Re-Animator, or a stunt to arouse the audience from its slumber.

Life After Beth is a zom-rom-com that’s played so straight that it ends up a romantic drama about a bad break-up and an unstable ex-girlfriend; now with added zombies.

1/5

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers