Talking Movies

January 28, 2014

2014: Fears

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 7:25 pm
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300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUM

Noah
Arriving in March is Darren Aronofsky’s soggy biblical epic starring Russell Crowe as Noah, and Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s dad, the oldest man imaginable Methuselah. Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman round out the family, and Ray Winstone is the beastly villain of the piece. Aronofsky doesn’t lack chutzpah, he passed off horror flick Black Swan as a psychological drama in which Natalie Portman did all her own dancing after all, but this will undoubtedly sink without trace in its own CGI flood because it apparently tackles head-on the troublesome references to the Sons of God while somehow making Noah an ecological warrior – which neatly alienates its target audience.

300: Rise of an Empire

The ‘sequel’ to 300 finally trundles into cinemas 7 years and about three name changes later. Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) urges the Greeks to unite in action against the invading army of Persian ruler Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), while Athenian Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the Hellenic fleet against the Persian fleet (which we’re supposed to accept is) led by the Greek Artemisia (Eva Green). 300 is a fine film, if you regard it, following PG Wodehouse’s dictum, as a sort of musical comedy without the music. Zack Snyder took it deadly seriously… and has co-written this farrago of CGI, macho nonsense, Bush-era patriotic bombast, and deplorable history.

TRANSCENDENCE

The Raid 2: Berandal
March sees the return of super-cop Rama (Iko Uwais), as, picking up immediately after the events of the first film, he goes undercover in prison to befriend the convict son of a fearsome mob boss, in the hope of uncovering corruption in Jakarta’s police force. 2012’s The Raid was bafflingly over-praised (Gareth Evans’ script could’ve been for a film set in Detroit, and in the machete scene a villain clearly pulled a stroke to avoid disarming Rama), so this bloated sequel, running at nearly an hour longer than its predecessor, is a considerable worry. At least there’ll be some variety with subway fights, and car chases promised.

Transcendence
Nolan’s abrasive DP Wally Pfister makes the leap to the big chair in April with this sci-fi suspense thriller. Dr. Caster (Johnny Depp), a leading pioneer in the field of A.I., uploads himself into a computer upon an assassination attempt, soon gaining a thirst for omnipotence. Pfister has enlisted Nolan regulars Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, as well as Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, and the inimitable Clifton Collins Jr, and Jack Paglen’s script was on the Black List; so why is this a fear? Well, remember when Spielberg’s DP tried to be a director? And when was the last time Depp’s acting was bearable and not a quirkfest?

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

May 2nd sees the return of the franchise we didn’t need rebooted… Aggravatingly Andrew Garfield as Spidey and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey are far better actors than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, but the material they were given felt inevitably over-familiar. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci wrote the sequel, and, after Star Trek ‘2’, their Sleepy Hollow riffs so much on Supernatural it casts doubt on their confidence in their own original ideas, which is a double whammy as far as over-familiarity goes. And there’s too many villains… Electro (Jamie Foxx), Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan), and Norman Osborn(/Green Goblin too?) (Chris Cooper).

Boyhood
Richard Linklater and Michael Winterbottom as transatlantic parallels gains ground as it transpires they’ve both been pulling the same trick over the last decade. Linklater in Boyhood tells the life of a child (Ellar Salmon) from age six to age 18, following his relationship with his parents (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette) before and after they divorce. Linklater has spent a few weeks every year since 2002 shooting portions of this film, so Salmon grows up and his parents lose their looks. Hawke has described it as “time-lapse photography of a human being”, but is it as good as Michael Chabon’s similar set of New Yorker stories following a boy’s adolescence?

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Edge of Tomorrow

Tastefully released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Tom Cruise plays a soldier, fighting in a world war against invading aliens, who finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way. So far, so Groundhog Day meets Source Code. On the plus side it’s directed by Doug Liman (SwingersMr & Mrs Smith), who needs to redeem himself for 2008’s Jumper, and it co-stars Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton. On the minus side three different screenwriters are credited (including Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth), and, given how ‘development’ works, there’s probably as many more uncredited.

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis return in July, oh joy, in 3-D, more joy, with a tale of a young woman (Mila Kunis) who discovers that she shares the same DNA as the Queen of the Universe, and goes on the run with a genetically engineered former soldier (Channing Tatum), oh, and he’s part wolf… The cast includes the unloveable Eddie Redmayne, but also the extremely loveable Tuppence Middleton and the always watchable Sean Bean, and, oddly, a cameo from Terry Gilliam, whose work is said to be an influence on the movie. Although with bits of Star Wars, Greek mythology, and apparently the comic-book Saga floating about, what isn’t an influence?

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

An unnecessary prequel to 2005’s horrid Sin City follows the story of Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and his dangerous relationship with the seductive Ava Lord (Eva Green). Shot in 2012 but trapped in post-production hell the CGI-fest will finally be ready for August, we’re promised. Apparently this Frank Miller comic is bloodier than those utilised in the original, which seems barely possible, and original cast Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and Jaime King return alongside newcomers Juno Temple and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But who cares? The original’s awesome trailer promised cartoon Chandler fun, and delivered gruesome, witless, sadistic, and misogynistic attempts at noir from Miller’s pen.

Guardians Of The Galaxy
Also in August, Marvel aim to prove that slapping their logo on anything really will sell tickets as many galaxies away Chris Pratt’s cocky pilot (in no way modelled on Han Solo) falls in with alien assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), warrior Drax The Destroyer (wrestler Dave Bautista), tree-creature Groot (Vin Diesel’s voice uttering one line), and badass rodent Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper’s voice), going on the run with a powerful object with half the universe on their tail. Writer/director James Gunn (SlitherSuper) has form, and reunites with Michael Rooker as well casting Karen Gillan as a villain, but this silly CGI madness sounds beyond even him.

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Far From the Madding Crowd
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a wilful, flirtatious young woman unexpectedly inherits a large farm and becomes romantically involved with three widely divergent men: the rich landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the exciting Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge), and the poor farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). John Schlesinger’s 1967 film of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel is a formidable predecessor. This version is from slightly morbid director Thomas Vinterberg (FestenThe Hunt), in his first period outing, and, worryingly, he co-scripted this with David Nicholls of One Day fame; whose own tendencies are not exactly of a sunny disposition. Can the promising young cast overcome Vinterberg’s most miserabilist tendencies?

The Man from UNCLE

Probably a Christmas blockbuster this reboot of the 1960s show teams CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB man Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) on a mission to infiltrate a mysterious criminal organization during the height of the cold war. Steven Soderbergh nearly made this with George Clooney from a Scott Z Burns script. Instead we get Guy Ritchie and his Sherlock Holmes scribe Lionel Wigram. Sigh. Hugh Grant plays Waverley, while the very talented female leads Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki will highlight the lack of suavity and comic timing of the male leads; particularly troublesome given the show was very dryly done tongue-in-cheek super-spy nonsense.

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Exodus

Another year, another Ridley Scott flick among my greatest cinematic fears… Thankfully Fassbender is not implicated in this disaster in waiting. Instead it is Christian Bale who steps into Charlton Heston’s sandals as the leader of the Israelites Moses in this Christmas blockbuster – don’t ask… Joel Edgerton is the Pharoah Rameses who will not let Moses’ people go, Aaron Paul is Joshua, and the ensemble includes Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Emun Elliott and John Turturro. But Tower Heist scribes Adam Cooper & Bill Collage are the chief writers, with Steve Zaillian rewriting for awards prestige, and Scott’s on an epic losing streak, so this looks well primed for CGI catastrophe…

2014: Hopes

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 3:58 pm
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The Monuments Men

George Clooney stars, co-writes with Grant Heslov again, and directs what seems like a promising mash-up of The Train and Ocean’s 11, arriving sometime in February. Somewhat based on fact, a crack team of art experts and soldiers are assembled in the dying months of WWII to try and rescue priceless works of art from wanton destruction at the hands of nihilistic Nazis. The team includes regular Clooney cohort Matt Damon and the great Cate Blanchett, alongside the undoubtedly scene-stealing comedic duo of Bill Murray and John Goodman, and oddly Jean Dujardin. Can Clooney pull off a more serious art heist from Nazis caper? Fingers crossed he can.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson returns in March, apparently in thrall to Lubitsch and Lang. Edward Norton did so well in Moonrise Kingdom that he’s invited back alongside Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, and Owen Wilson. Newcomers are Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric, and F Murray Abraham. Fiennes is the legendary concierge of the titular hotel in inter-war Europe, where any gathering storms are ignored in favour of absurd murder plots, art thefts and family squabbles gone mad, as Fiennes gives his lobby-boy protégé an education in dealing with the upper classes which he’ll never forget; if they escape a sticky end long enough to remember.

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Veronica Mars

AW YEAH!! It was cancelled in 2007 but Kristen Bell’s iconic teen detective snoops again as creator Rob Thomas sends NYC legal eagle Veronica back to sunny Neptune to attend her high school reunion. Present and correct are friends Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III), nemesis Madison (Amanda Noret), and frenemy Dick (Ryan Hansen). Dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) remains a sage, warning against the obvious peril of insipid boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) being replaced in her affections by roguish ex Logan (Jason Dohring), who is once again accused of murder and asking for V’s help. Please let the sparks of ‘epic love’ spanning ‘decades and continents’ rekindle!

Frank

Lenny Abrahamson is the opposite of a Talking Movies favourite, but he’s teamed up with the favourite di tutti favourites Michael Fassbender. Thankfully Abrahamson’s miserabilist tendencies and agonising inertness have been put to one side for this rock-star comedy co-written by journalist Jon Ronson, a man with a verified eye for the absurd having written The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. The original script loosely based on a cult English comic musician follows wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins a pop band led by the enigmatic Frank (Fassbender) and his scary girlfriend Maggie Gyllenhaal.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Literally everything I loved most about the original disappeared with the time-jump. So the major attraction of April’s sequel isn’t Robert Redford as a shady new SHIELD director, but Revenge’s icy heroine Emily VanCamp as the mysterious Agent 13. Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow regrettably take the place of Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell in support, but Anthony Mackie as sidekick Falcon is a major boon. The real worry is that directors Joe and Anthony Russo (You, Me and Dupree, yes, that’s right, that’s their resume) will be intimidated by their budget into endless CGI action and precious little else.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

I’m excited and nostalgic, because May 23rd sees the arrival of the X-3 we deserved, but never got. Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he launched for one of Claremont/Byrne’s most famous storylines. In a dystopian future, where mutantkind has been decimated by the Sentinels of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage),Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) Wolverine (Hugh Jackman – this is a movie, not a comic, it’s all got to be about Wolverine!) is sent back into the past by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) to alter history by rapprochement of their younger selves (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender). Jennifer Lawrence co-stars, with every X-Men actor!

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22 Jump Street
A proper summer blockbuster release date of June 13th for this sequel recognises the hilarious success of the absurd original. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) (or was it the other way round?) go undercover in college to crack another drug ring, and once again their fantastic bromance starts to crack under the strain. The original’s unwieldy team of writers and directors are back, as are Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle and Dave Franco. Amber Stevens and Wyatt Russell are the college kids, but sadly Brie Larson is absent. Jonah Hill appears in full goth gear, which seems to suggest that the absurdity levels remain healthy.

The Trip to Italy

It’s not clear yet if we’ll get this as an abridged film or just be treated to the full version as 6 episodes on BBC 2. In either case Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reunite to play heightened versions of themselves as they bicker their way around restaurants in Italy for the purposes of writing magazine reviews. 2010’s endearing roving sitcom The Trip, with its competitive Michael Caine impersonations was a joy, and director Michael Winterbottom takes the show on tour here. And no better man for the job, as this originated with their duelling Al Pacinos at the end of his A Cock and Bull Story.

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Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen’s latest should hit our screens around September. This time round the cottage industry is giving us a period romantic comedy, set in the south of France, which takes place in the 1920s and 1930s. The cast is as usual intimidating: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, the imperious Eileen Atkins (one of the few actresses capable of domineering over Judi Dench), and Jacki Weaver. Will F Scott and his ilk make an appearance? Who knows! There are no details, just stills of open-top cars, drop waists, and cloche hats so this could be a close cousin of Sweet & Lowdown or Midnight in Paris.

Gone Girl

The start of October sees the great David Fincher return, with his first film in three years, and it’s another adaptation of a wildly successful crime novel. Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) are seemingly the perfect couple, but when she disappears suddenly on their 5th wedding anniversary, Nick becomes the prime suspect as he discovers his wife told friends she was scared of him. Could he have killed her? Or is the truth far more twisted? Gillian Flynn has adapted her own work, and, incredibly, penned an entirely new third act to keep everyone guessing. The unusually colourful supporting cast includes Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Fugit.

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The Interview
The pitch is that an attractive talk show host and his producer unwittingly get caught up in an international assassination plot. So far so blah, if that was say Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson directed by Shawn Levy, except that the host is actually James Franco, the producer is Seth Rogen, the interview is in North Korea, and the awesome Lizzy Caplan is the rogue femme fatale CIA agent who drags them into all sorts of mischief. And it’s written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg who distinguished themselves with 2013’s best comedy This is The End. This is very likely to mop up the non-Gone Girl audience.

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan tries to redeem himself after TDKR with a small personal project, taking the same release date as The Prestige did. Well, small, in that the WB needed Paramount to stump up some cash for it, and personal, in that Spielberg spent years developing it; albeit with the assistance of Jonathan Nolan. Scientists attempt to observe a wormhole into another dimension, and that’s about all we know, other than vague speculations about ecological crises. Matthew McConaughey 2.0 stars alongside Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, Jessica Chastain, and, yes, Michael Caine – who is now as essential a part of the signature as Bill Murray for Wes Anderson.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I

Jennifer Lawrence goes for third biggest hit at the North American box office for the third year in a row with her latest turn as rebel heroine Katniss Everdeen on November 21st. Having survived the Quarter Quell and the destruction of her District, she discovers President Snow has Peeta hostage, and that the rebellion has a leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore), ready to embark on a full-scale bloody war of rebellion against the Capitol. Recount writer (and Buffy shmuck) Danny Strong is the new screenwriter, and Elementary star Natalie Dormer joins the cast, but director Francis Lawrence remains in situ, with his considered visual style.

January 23, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

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The Coens return with their worst film since their mainstream disasters Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, and this time round they can’t say their vision was distorted by mainstream pressures.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) performs a folksong at the Gaslight Cafe in 1961. Walking backstage he’s punched in the face, an unwelcome reminder of the Coens’ Gambit script. The effectively homeless Llewyn wakes up on the Gorfeins’ couch and leaves their flat in accidental possession of their cat. His next planned couch, that of occasional lover Jean (Carey Mulligan), has been promised to earnest GI singer Troy (Stark Sands). Worse still Jean is pregnant and, unsure of the paternity, wants to abort the baby. The needful money comes from Jean’s boyfriend Jim (Justin Timberlake) inviting Llewyn to join Al Cody (Adam Driver) as a session player on Jim’s novelty song ‘Please Mr Kennedy’. After Llewyn alienates everybody he knows he is reduced to sharing a car to Chicago with rude jazzman Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his valet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), in a quest to impress Chicagoan music impresario (F Murray Abraham). Can Llewyn finally get his voice heard?

You won’t care… Even if you’re still conscious after the tedium of the tedious road-trip, you won’t care because Llewyn is comprehensively as obnoxious a protagonist as you have ever seen. He’s an abrasive, unreasonable, uncaring, and only slightly talented egomaniacal dick. But he’s not compelling as a character, and he’s not even consistent. In a horrific scene he curses the inexplicably hospitable Gorfeins for wanting him to perform after dinner when he’s ‘a professional musician’. A few scenes later he performs to entertain the driving Johnny, even though he’s still ‘a professional musician’. A character this toxic infects everything… The crudity of dialogue is astonishing, and having Llewyn upbraided for his foul mouth doesn’t overcome it. The acting also decays: Mulligan shouts or snaps nearly all of her lines, snapping being one gradation below shouting with her, On the Road’s Hedlund’s appearance seems an unfunny in-joke, because he’s playing a meaner Dean Moriarty, and Goodman is on uncommitted auto-pilot.

I only love two Coen films, the most absurd ones: Raising ArizonaO Brother. I’ve long felt they were over-rated given their taste for crunching violence, blank characters, and a curious air of superiority, but this is a startling nadir. I can’t give you any reason to see Inside Llewyn Davis. Its full performances of minor folksongs can be bettered by throwing on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a truer sense of that scene can be acquired by reading Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, a more insightful study of a failing artist featuring Adam Driver is Frances Ha, and a more compelling abrasive guy getting into shouting matches stars in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But I also can’t explain Inside Llewyn Davis’ existence. Singers need to perform to an audience, and Llewyn can’t properly connect with audiences, so his unrelenting monstrousness isn’t redeemed personally or artistically. If that’s the point, then… we all encounter enough jerks in life without needing films about them…

The Coen Brothers often give the impression they have a smirking contempt for their cipher characters, but this film shades over into contempt for their adoring audience in addition.

0/5

January 20, 2014

JDIFF 2014: 20 Films

Booking opens for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival at 9am tomorrow, so here are 20 films to keep an eye on at the festival.

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CALVARY (7:30pm Thu 13th Feb, Savoy)

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to The Guard laces the trademark McDonagh black comedy with a more philosophical approach akin to Dostoyevsky as Brendan Gleeson’s priest is told in the confessional that he will be murdered in one week. As he tries to identify the murderer from the miscreants (Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson) who make up his flock, with little success, he realises that he may have to prepare to meet his maker. Only God Forgives cinematographer Larry Smith imbues the Yeats country of Sligo with an appropriate contemplative grandeur.

BIG SUR (9:00pm Fri 14th Feb, Lighthouse)

Twin Falls Idaho director Michael Polish tackles Jack Kerouc’s 1962 work Big Sur. At a brisk 81 minutes this shares none of the bloat of Walter Salles’ disastrous On the Road, though it shares a liking for direct quotation from Kerouac as voice-over. Jean-Marc Barr is the increasingly alcoholic and depressed Kerouac, who attempts to get sober and productive by gathering old friends Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards), Michael McClure (Balthazar Getty) and Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas) for a trip to an isolated Big Sur cabin (given extra sheen by cinematographer M David Mullen).

MYSTERY ROAD (9:00pm, Fri 14th Feb, Cineworld)

Red Hill’s set-up is reversed for another modern western set in Australia. Writer/director/editor/cinematographer/composer Ivan Sen creates a brooding mystery as Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his outback hometown, where his white colleagues deride him even as the aboriginal community distrusts him. He’s assigned the case of a young girl found dead in a drainage ditch as a deliberate dead-end, however, as he interrogates persons of interest including Hugo Weaving and Ryan Kwanten he discovers that even this sun-blanched town can harbour dark secrets. Sen’s enigmatic achievement is essentially a Western meets Chinatown.

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ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (11:00am, Sat 15th Feb, Savoy)

Jim Jarmusch’s unsurprisingly meditative vampire film is described as being “a shrewd and sensual subversion on familiar gothic mythology” as Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play Adam & Eve, centuries-old vampires reuniting after a spell apart to live in a grungy house in decaying Detroit, Adam being a reclusive musician. Eve’s feisty sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) appears, however, and disturbs their nocturnal utopia. Jarmusch’s recent films have been becoming an ever more acquired taste, so the joy of seeing John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe may not recompense for the glacial pacing.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2:00pm, Sat 15th Feb, Cineworld)

Wes Anderson. Your reaction to those two words is all you really need to know… Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave H, the legendary concierge of the titular hotel, and newcomer Tony Revolori plays Zero Revolori, his young friend and sidekick. Together they become embroiled in a plot revolving around a priceless Renaissance painting and a family fortune. The cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, and the inter-war setting gives Anderson’s regular production designer Adam Stockhausen scope to really go wild with the archly mannered sets.

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (6:30pm, Sat 15th Feb, Cineworld)

A striking adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel by Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele, this film follows two women during the dramas of Nigeria’s independence. Driven by powerful and moving performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls), we follow sisters Olanna (Newton) and Kainene (Rose), daughters of a well-to-do businessman, as their lives take very different paths. Olanna falls in love with a revolutionary, while Kainene enters into a romance with a white British writer. As civil war spreads, the sisters both flee to Biafra.

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STAY (8:00pm, Sat 15th Feb, Cineworld)

Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s Irish-Canadian co-production is based on Aislinn Hunter’s acclaimed novel Stay, set in Galway and Montreal. Archaeologist Aidan Quinn (Elementary) lives on Ireland’s west coast trying to bury his past. His young lover Taylor Schilling (Mercy) leaves when he disavows having children, returning to her native Montreal to reflect on her situation. Meanwhile, the local community trundles its way through death and birth, economic collapse and survival. But just as his professional and human engagement is renewed by a bogland find, her emotional confusion grows as she excavates her own family history.

STRANGER BY THE LAKE (9:00pm, Sat 15th Feb, Lighthouse)

Alain Guiraudie’s film starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, and Patrick d’Assumçao set Cannes abuzz. We follow Franck, a gay man who frequents the lake, popular with nudists and men cruising for sex in the surrounding forests. He comes to know Michel, to whom he is dangerously and foolishly attracted, and refuses to stay away from – entering a deadly game of cat and mouse. Hailed as a masterpiece of carefully constructed narrative and concentrated visual storytelling, electric with tension, desire and danger and featuring graphic unsimulated gay sex, it’s like explicit Highsmith.

TRACKS (11:00am, Sun 16th Feb, Savoy)

The Painted Veil director John Curran helms a story about one young woman’s nine-month trek across the Australian desert. Mia Wasikowska is mesmerising as a would-be lone explorer who does it because it’s there and she wants to be alone. She does, however, meet people on her trip, including Aboriginal ‘old fella’ Eddy (Rolley Mintuma) who helps see her through sacred desert areas. The stunning scenery is enhanced by judicious use of overhead shots, while cinematographer Mandy Walker does a spectacular job in conveying the stark beauty and inherent danger in the shifting landscape.

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A LONG WAY DOWN (8:00pm, Sun 16th Feb, Cineworld)

French rom-com specialist Pascal Chaumeil tackles Nick Hornby’s best-selling novel. Disgraced chat show host Pierce Brosnan reaches rock bottom on New Year’s Eve, standing on the roof of London’s premier suicide spot. But his suicide is thwarted by the arrival of other jumpers; Aaron Paul, a failed rock star with terminal cancer; Imogen Poots, an MP’s neglected daughter; and single mother Maureen Toni Collette, struggling to care for her severely disabled son. The quartet all pledge to refrain from attempts at suicide until Valentine’s Day – thus forming an unlikely support group.

THE WONDERS (PLAOT) (8:30pm, Sun 16th Feb, Cineworld)

Veteran director Avi Nesher indulges in labyrinthine comic fantasy as Ariel Navon (Ori Hizkiah), an art-school dropout and cartoonist, spots a strange flash of blue light emanating from an apparently vacant building. His investigation yields an encounter with famed modern-day prophet Rabbi Knafo (Yehuda Levi). Is Knafo being held against his will? And who would do such a thing? Cartoons come to life when nobody’s looking, and conspiracies keep being conspired when nobody’s looking, as Woody Allen’s films vie with shades of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union in the influence stakes.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (9:00pm, Mon 17th Feb, Cineworld)

Irish director Ruairí Robinson makes his feature bow with this oblique tale of life on Mars. Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai and Olivia Williams are crew-members on the first manned mission to Mars. All goes well, until the final day when an exciting discovery is made a few miles from base. Obviously, unlike Antarctic scientists who begin each whiteout season with a viewing of The Thing, none of these astronauts had seen Alien. After an officer goes missing collecting evidence of Martian life the crew are soon violently fighting for life.

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BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL (AVANT L’HIVER) (6:15pm, Tue 18th Feb, Lighthouse)

Daniel Auteuil is a respected surgeon, Kristin Scott Thomas cooks and gardens exquisitely, together, they bring stability to their extended family and community of friends. But the passion for Paul of Leïla Bekhti brings chaos. Novelist/film-maker Philippe Claudel’s second film opens as a Gallic take on Fatal Attraction, with a nod to the great Claude Chabrol, before morphing into something original and passionate as Claudel extends the strong creative partnership he began with Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long and extracts a superb, poignant performance from Auteuil.

MOOD INDIGO (L’ECUME DES JOURS) (8:45pm, Tue 18th, Lighthouse)

Director Michel Gondry adapts Boris Vian’s cult novel Froth on the Daydream with Populaire star Romain Duris as a Bertie Wooster type kept out of trouble by his own personal Jeeves, Omar Sy (The Untouchables). Duris decides he needs a girlfriend, and promptly meets Audrey Tatou. But Raymond Queneau described the 1947 novel as ‘the most heartbreakingly poignant modern love story’. Gondry’s lo-tech effects nail the writer’s surreal flights of fancy and wall-to-wall puns, but worsening health and financial crises make this a notably darker and more melancholy rom-com than usual.

CAS & DYLAN (6:30pm, Wed 19th Feb, Cineworld)
Before Jaws Richard Drefyuss starred in classic Canadian film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, now he makes a memorable journey across Canada as dying Winnipeg surgeon Cas in Jason Priestley’s touching road movie. Cas crosses paths with Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Dylan, a free-wheeling chain-smoking kleptomaniac – and finds himself fleeing the scene of a crime with her in a stolen VW Beetle. Jessie Gabe’s wise and funny script gradually reveals the truth about the pair, while Dreyfuss Fassbenders thru his best role in years as the straitlaced doctor belatedly letting rip.

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UNDER THE SKIN (8:45pm, Wed 19th Feb, Cineworld)

Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer returns after a long absence with a sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as a classic femme fatale in the film noir tradition, down to the plump red lips and deep fur coat, but with a refrigerated nothingness at her core. Because she is in fact an alien who takes amorous Glaswegian men into her van turns them into Scotch broth. Glazer renders the Scottish landscape as alien: dawn mist rolls across lochs like curls of space dust, while Johansson has won surprised praise for her wordless performance.

THE CONGRESS (8:45pm, Wed 19th Feb, Lighthouse)

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Forman returns with a meta-textual Hollywood satire, inspired by Stanislav Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress, starring Robin Wright as herself, which morphs midway into a full blown sci-fi cartoon, but only to cut even closer to the philosophical bone in its investigation of femininity, fantasy and virtual reality. Actress Robin Wright is washed up, but Miramount executive Danny Huston has a proposition that will guarantee her riches for life. He wants to scan her and take full rights to virtual Robin Wright. But she must never act again…

AFTERNOON DELIGHT (9:00pm, Thu 20th Feb, Cineworld)

Writer-director Jill Soloway (United States of Tara) makes her feature film debut with a raunchy mixture of comedy and drama as thirtysomething mum Kathryn Hahn tries to spice up life with husband Josh Radnor at a Los Angeles strip club, only to develop an unhealthy fixation on young stripper Juno Temple. Desperate to escape the numbingly dull preschool parents in her neighbourhood, she invites her to become live-in nanny. Kathryn Hahn was very good in support in Revolutionary Road, and this seems like a more comedic take on delusions of grandeur and escape.

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THE DOUBLE (6:30pm, Fri 21st Feb, Cineworld)

IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade served notice of his directorial abilities with 2011’s Submarine so this second feature is eagerly awaited, but has already divided opinion at previous festivals. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella is relocated to anonymous office bureaucracy as Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon, a belittled worker bee who’s shunned by the elfin photocopy girl Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). And then a freight-train of confidence named James, also played by Eisenberg, starts work – instantly winning over the boss and charming Hannah to the horror of Simon who is the only who has noticed his doppelganger.

THE ZERO THEOREM (9:00pm, Fri 21st Feb, Cineworld)

Allegedly the final part of a dystopian trilogy comprising Brazil and 12 Monkeys, in which case God knows how many trilogies Hitchcock inadvertently knocked out… Christoph Waltz is an angst-ridden computer programmer tasked with proving the titular theorem, and thereby revealing the meaning of life. Anybody shouting ‘42’ will be ejected. His quest is supported by Mélanie Thierry and hampered by his supervisor David Thewlis and Matt Damon’s Management. Tilda Swinton scene-steals as an AI psychiatrist, and Gilliam’s inimitable visual style of odd angles, dizzy colours, and surrealism are on full display.

Macbeth

 

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As I did stand my watch upon the hill I looked toward Birnam and anon methought the wood began to move

 

Being one of the Fundit sponsors of this production of the Scottish play at Smock Alley, this is an earnest attempt at a semi-unbiased review of Keith Thompson directing Macbeth.

Thompson has directed and acted in several Shakespeare productions at UCD’s Astra Hall, and his hallmark brevity is at work here as Macbeth comes in at just under 100 minutes without an interval. The play opens with King Duncan (Finbarr Doyle) receiving news from a wounded soldier (Patrick Doyle) of Macbeth (Gerard Adlum) successfully suppressing a rebellion. His generous decision to reward Macbeth with the rebel’s title Thane of Cawdor backfires spectacularly, however, as Macbeth and Banquo (Conor Marren) have just been visited by three witches who prophesied receiving that title would be the first step towards Macbeth becoming King of Scotland. But it is not until Macbeth returns home, with the unexpected news that Duncan intends to stay with them, that the mischief really starts as ambitious Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Laverty) pushes him to murder Duncan and seize power…

There are no lulls until Malcolm and Macduff’s filler scene in this breathless production. Macbeth’s castle on the fateful night is a frenetically busy place, and Cait Corkery’s design cleverly utilises the Romanesque windows of the Boys School space by running stairs up to them to create a balcony, which Macbeth hides under at one point gripped by fear and guilt. The witches are druidic figures, appearing in hooded cloaks on three sides of the audience in the gangway above. And returning soldiers run down these gangways to gain entrance to the stage, injecting tremendous bursts of energy into Shakespeare’s tale of dark plotting. Eoghan Carrick’s lighting design emphasises the nocturnal aspect of the play, while his use of greens and blues in his night-time tints also subtly hints at the supernatural powers at work forcing Macbeth ever bloodily forward.

But a Thompsonian Shakespeare will always have naturalistic comedy, and here Katie McCann as an excitable Ross offers much background joviality, and also an unexpected personal note in her plea to Malcolm (Jamie Hallahan) that in his cause even the women of Scotland would fight against the tyrant. Meanwhile Patrick Doyle in a terrific performance in a portmanteau role at Chez Macbeth transforms the Porter’s speech into a series of ‘knock knock’ jokes told to various members of the audience, casually slits Banquo’s throat ending his indignation, serves drinks afterwards as Macbeth hastily dabs off Banquo’s blood from his cheek, smiles devilishly as he appears on the balcony to check the escape of Lady Macduff (Claire Jenkins) with the faux-innocent question ‘Where is your husband?’ and, as Seyton, stays by his murderous master till the bitter end of Birnam Wood.

Playing Shakespeare with a cast of nine, regardless of the cutting done, requires this sort of doubling; and everything works except for an unfortunately Lynchian moment when Macduff arrives to check on Duncan. Eschewing any crown for instead a chair and a ring,(which Macbeth continually twists on his finger because of his guilty conscience) it’s all too easy to forget that Finbarr Doyle is Duncan/Macduff, so for a second it appears Duncan has arrived to where he is to check if he’s sleeping… Doyle though is a notably gracious Duncan, and his Macduff has pleasing notes of integrity. He also engages Macbeth in a sword-fight which thrills because it is perilously close to the audience in this small venue, and, because of some tweaking of the text, looks rather like Macbeth is going to get the upper hand on Macduff.

Thompson’s cutting of the text puts us inside Macbeth’s head to a degree that makes him approach Richard III, except that instead of gleefully informing us what he’s going to do before he takes action, like Richard, this Macbeth is almost asking our advice on whether he should take action at all by outlining his qualms. Adlum has Macbeth simultaneously tempted and horrified by the witches. He has a painful awareness of what Jan Kott called ‘the grand staircase of history’ in Shakespeare’s plays. He knows that to kill Duncan will put him one level higher on the staircase, and will also create on the step he did occupy an equally lethal challenger to his new status. Laverty’s Lady M tempts him by pricking his vanity; she supplies the pragmatism for murder and immediate advancement, but not for reigning hereafter.

This lean production keeps our sympathy with a hero, first doing wrong out of fear of being usurped, who eventually collapses into amoral madness.

4/5

Macbeth continues its run at Smock Alley until January 25th.

January 17, 2014

Top Performances of 2013

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:29 pm

As the traditional complement to last week’s Top 10 Films, here are the Top Performances of 2013. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as the top of the class, and the runners up being right behind them, and the also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.

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Best Supporting Actress

Ellen Page (The East) Page is extremely menacing as the forceful Izzy, so enigmatic as to appear without moral limits, but almost mythological in her convictions and actions as lieutenant of eco-terrorists The East.

Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) Acting plaudits mysteriously went to Jessica Chastain’s petulant heroine, but it was Ehle’s humane turn as the wiser, more plausible agent that gave the film its emotional grounding.

Maggie Gyllenhaal (White House Down) Giving it EVERYTHING, she’s so ferociously committed, especially in scenes of betrayal and redemption, that her dignity makes all the nonsense around her plausible.

Runners Up:

Melanie Laurent (Now You See Me) To an extent Laurent is playing French Agent Mulder. She wants the criminals she’s hunting to employ real magicks – and her willingness stands in for the audience perfectly.

Elizabeth Debicki (Gatsby) Short-shrifted by Baz ,who deleted her final scene, the Aussie newcomer stood out as Jordan Baker, her drawling accent, flapper look, and careless air redeeming part of the film’s mess.

Lola Creton (Something in the Air) As the most sensible of all the young socialist revolutionaries we meet in early 1970s France she’s later sadly abandoned by the script, but has impressed enough to be missed…

Also Placed:

Rila Fukushima (Wolverine) As the petite samurai who teams up with Logan she’s instantly adorable as a warrior with a softer side.

Gal Gadot (Fast 6) Gadot is there for her looks, but she manages to inject an unexpected undercurrent of sadness to her part.

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Best Supporting Actor

James Franco (Spring Breakers) Franco’s turn as bling-adorned terrible rapper Alien, constantly muttering “for real” and “spring break forever”, was a terrific use of charisma to glamorise a seedy criminal.

Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3) A Fassbendering Kingsley showed great range as he found very surprising comedy in The Mandarin, despite having a traumatising scene where he tested the President live on TV.

Sam Shepard (Mud) His mysterious neighbour was a tour de force as he brought to life a character who keeps to himself yet has acquired over his life insight, wisdom, and ruthlessness he employs to guard a select few.

Jacob Lofland (Mud) Neckbone rode a motorbike and pilot a motorboat but he was a contemporary Tom Sawyer and newcomer Lofland was wonderfully naturalistic as the more cautious of the two teenagers.

Runners Up:

Keith Carradine (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) Carradine puts his now considerable gravitas into his toughened by life mentor who has been hurt by his charges but is still deeply invested in assuring their happiness.

Rob Lowe (Behind the Candelabra) He was hysterically funny as a plastic surgeon whose eyes never seemed to quite fully open after a facelift and who seemed barely conscious at times as he pushed pills.

Samuel L Jackson (Django) An almost unrecognisable Jackson was sensational as the house slave Stephen, in the best acting performance he’s given in years he was racist beyond belief because it secured his status.

William H Macy (The Sessions) His priest was vital to the success of the film, as he counselled its crippled hero he mixed sincere but inept attempts at being matey with a forgiving theological approach.

Ben Foster (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) Foster gave an unshowy performance as the taciturn face of the law, but it was a performance that didn’t seek to conceal a far sweeter note than his usual hard man.

Also Placed:

Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) Clarke was on fine form as the torturer par excellence who burns out from the job.

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) His radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens was a very funny slice of TLJ with extra intelligence.

David Schwimmer (The Iceman) He was unrecognisable as the inept Jewish mobster trying to pass himself off as being Italian.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan) Arnie freaked out – in German! I want to see newly cuddly Arnie speak German more often.

Jim Carrey (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) Carrey is wonderfully callous and rude as an obnoxious David Blaine type.

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Best Actress

Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) Essaying a comic Blanche DuBois  she was able to shift from gorgeous and intelligent to haggard and schizophrenic within a scene by dint of sheer facial expressiveness. More extraordinarily she was also able to retain audience sympathy despite being vicious.

Brie Larson (Short Term 12) Larson is terrific as chief counsellor Grace, enigmatic even to her live-in boyfriend, she’s an unknowable figure who reveals little of herself for most of the film, and can switch from companionable and warm to commanding and cold in a second when needed.

Jennifer Lawrence (Catching Fire) Lawrence nuanced her formidable heroine with a healthy dose of PTSD and survivors’ guilt. Her sedition-inspiring reaction to seeing the family of her surrogate little sister, slain District 11 tribute Rue, was devastating and her final gesture in the Quarter Quell iconic.

Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed) Sullenness has never been so loveable. A sub-plot that’s dispensable puts a lot of pressure on a slight plot, and it’s hard to think anyone else could’ve pulled off this role. Plaza makes her intern both understandably saddened by her life and internally driven.

Runners Up:

Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) Gerwig was wonderfully convincing as the immature but winning graduate who hasn’t been as successful as her peers and desperately bluffs while she flails about trying to be an adult.

Rooney Mara (Side Effects, Aint Them Bodies Saints) Mara’s patient was compelling thru all her medicated character changes, while her domesticated outlaw gave nuanced glimpses of savagery behind the facade.

Amy Adams (Man of Steel) Adams was a fantastic Lois, abrasive, charming, romantic, and finally cinematically we got a reporter who discovered Superman’s true identity by dogged investigating!

Also Placed:

Mary-Louise Parker (RED 2) Parker had a tricky role as the overtly unnecessary element in a spy caper but she managed to pull it off with some remarkable absurdist comic timing in many of her scenes.

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Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey (Mud) McConaughey confirmed his renaissance by deploying all his charm and naivety to dramatic import as the superstitious fugitive hiding out from the law and Texans, and bonding with Ellis, as, with irrepressible romanticism, he waited for his true love Juniper.

Michael Shannon (The Iceman) Shannon was chilling as the cold-blooded contract killer, not least as he displayed little conflict; a stunning scene in which he gave James Franco time to pray to God confirmed this; yet his love for his family kept you rooting for his Atlantic City property scheme to pay off.

Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra) Douglas gave his best sustained performance since Traffic in an uninhibited performance, unafraid to show the ‘vanity gone mad’ horrors of plastic surgery in practice, that created a character of insatiable appetites, misused talent, and confused religiosity.

Runners Up:

Casey Affleck (Aint Them Bodies Saints) Affleck was on fine form as an outlaw possessed of such romantic passion that his violent outbursts seemed less criminal than regrettably necessary to find true love.

Tye Sheridan (Mud) Sheridan gave a subtle turn as the teenager enduring the disintegrating marriage of his parents who reacted to the loss of his riverside life by appropriating Mud’s belief in everlasting love.

John Hawkes (The Sessions) Hawkes’ performance was showy in the sense that he physically discomforted himself to play the real-life polio victim and poet, but it only worked because he was so very funny.

Also Placed:

Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man 3) Sure he complicated Stark with some panic attacks but the real triumph was the envelope-pushing abrasiveness to a helpful kid that only Downey Jr could get away with.

Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) Goyer’s script too often merely sketched personalities but luckily once Cavill donned the suit he transformed vocally and grew into the role as a rather good Superman.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Gatsby) DiCaprio did his damndest to just ignore Baz’s shtick and play F Scott’s Gatsby, and if you’ve seen Revolutionary Road, you’ll know he can perform the novels, not bad scripts.

January 15, 2014

Devil’s Due

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Horror classic Rosemary’s Baby gets the found footage treatment in Devil’s Due as newlyweds discover something wrong with their pregnancy…

The film opens in faux-sinister fashion as a hand-held camera stalks around a house before climbing up the drainpipe to the bedroom of Samantha (Go On’s Allison Miller). The stalker, however, is her fiancé Zach (Friday Night Light’s Zach Gilford). As Samantha grew up in foster homes, after being cut out of her pregnant mother after a fatal car accident, he is determined to make up for the lack of any recordings of her childhood by documenting simply everything of their married life. On honeymoon in the Dominican Republic they are taken to the world’s best-hidden night-club by a helpful taxi-driver (Roger Payano). But something very odd happens after they pass out from drink… Samantha finds herself pregnant, despite being on the pill, and soon her cheerful OBGYN Dr Ludka (Donna Duplantier) is ominously replaced by Dr Dylan (Robert Aberdeen)…

Devil’s Due has some very nice moments. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are restrained in introducing the horror. Samantha punches out the windows of a car with super-strength after it almost runs her over in a car-park, but it could be adrenaline. At a pre-natal class she remembers her honeymoon to relax her baby, and all the other mothers writhe in pain as if the child in their womb had just leaped for despair, but it could just be coincidence not the Anti-Christ. And, yes, she wolfs down raw meat in a supermarket, but maybe she renounced her vegetarianism because she had a craving… But then great suspense is wrung from her niece discovering her carving a symbol on the floor and screaming with demonically elongated jaw. After that screenwriter Lindsay Devlin loses her way in the subtlety stakes.

Father Thomas (Sam Anderson, aka Bernard from LOST) has a stroke when Samantha is present at a Church sacrament, some characters wander in almost from another film solely to be killed off in a show-off shot, and Zach discovers the Satanic plot by finally watching the first hours of 8 months’ worth of his own footage. That found footage is then stolen by Satanists, so… how were we looking at it? Who found all of Zach’s footage, and added in security camera feeds, and all the material from the handily bugged McCall home? Did the Satanists compile an elaborate file?? And handily place an off-kilter camera under a bed to perfectly frame a touching moment! It also cannot be ignored that the Satanic symbol for bringing forth the Anti-Christ is the Euro… Make of that what you will: is it an unintentional satiric commentary on American insularity or a pointed shout out for conspiracy theorists?

Devil’s Due is an entertaining low-budget horror, if you’re willing to overlook the farcical flaws in its found footage.

3/5

January 9, 2014

12 Years a Slave

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Steve McQueen directs his first feature without Michael Fassbender in the lead, and the result is a more straightforward but very powerful film depicting slavery.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a prosperous man in upstate New York, much in demand at local dances for his skills as a violinist. He is also a free black man in the politically divided America of 1841, but after a trip to Washington DC providing music for a circus-owner (Scoot McNairy) he wakes up to find himself in chains about to be transported to New Orleans to be sold to whatever Louisiana plantation owner buys him. Viciously whipped for protesting his free status he is further brutalised by slave-trader Freeman (Paul Giamatti) for not adopting his slave name of Platt, but he is bought by humane plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who recognises his intelligence. However, conflict with vicious overseer Tibeats (Paul Dano) leads to Solomon being handed over to drunken and maniacal plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), where Solomon finds himself embroiled in the struggle between Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson) and Epps’ slave mistress Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o)…

12 Years a Slave is a remarkable film in which McQueen brings his distinctive visual aesthetic to bear on Three Kings scribe John Ridley’s adaptation of Northup’s shocking memoirs. The casual brutality of the slavers towards their victims is shocking, and McQueen’s camera is as unflinching as always in observing it, from the fixed-position long-take that observes Solomon’s first beating, to the already infamous and almost unbearable climactic long-take with a camera roving around Epps, Solomon and Patsey during a prolonged vindictive whipping. If Hunger was almost an installation about bodies in decay, andShame about bodies in motion, this is about bodies in torment. A decanter of whiskey is casually thrown into a slave’s face, a wound is ripped open with a scratch of nails, runaways are lynched besides Solomon, and Solomon himself is left hanging from a tight noose for hours while most of his fellow slaves strategically ignore his plight. This lacks a sequence where the mundane becomes transcendent, probably because of the subject; the closest we get is fire dying away at night with Solomon’s hopes.

The way McQueen’s camera silently observes the slaves being treated like livestock is more condemnatory than any polemical dialogue. Ridley’s script inserts a subtext into certain scenes about the insecurities and fears of the slave-owners, hidden behind their racist bluster, which makes even Fassbender’s vicious bible-thumping alcoholic more complicated than he first appears. Teabits sings about killing runaways to the new slaves, but is terrified of being shown up as an engineer by a slave. Epps’ wife is horrified at being replaced sexually by a slave, while Freeman breaks up a family because the daughter’s father was a master and this white blood increases her sexual desirability and price. Garret Dillahunt’s fallen overseer notes that masters must convince themselves the slaves are not human or repress their guilt. Ford tries to be good in this system, while Epps exploits it mercilessly and perhaps self-destructively. Regrettably amidst this intellectual subtlety Hans Zimmer’s key motif is instantly recognisable from his Inception score…

Steve McQueen is due a disaster, but so far he is proving to be something very rare –a film director who only makes masterpieces.                                               

5/5

Delivery Man

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Vince Vaughn stars in a rapid, identikit American remake of a hit Canadian film by its original writer/director Ken Scott.

David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is an incompetent meat delivery man for the family business. He’s in disgrace with his father and brothers for predictably messing up their basketball team photo-shoot, $80,000 in debt to scary people, planning to grow marijuana in his apartment to raise money, and his estranged NYPD cop girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) has just announced she’s pregnant and doesn’t want him involved. Into this mess of a life intrude his 533 biological children… A lapse in judgement at a sperm bank has seen his 693 samples prove remarkably fertile and now 142 of these children are suing to find out just who is their father. His best friend house-husband Brett (Chris Pratt) renews his licence to fight for David’s right to anonymity, but David starts to act as guardian angel to progeny including troubled Kristen (Britt Robertson)…

Delivery Man is being misleadingly sold as a comedic romp. There are some laugh-out loud moments punctuated throughout the film, but in truth it’s a warm dramedy rather than a comedy. Simon Delaney makes no impact as David’s acerbic brother, Victor despite having comparable screen-time to his turn in This Must Be the Place, because of the poverty of the material available to him. Jack Reynor as David’s struggling actor son Josh has a glorified cameo in which his initial obnoxiousness is hard to overcome. Chris Pratt’s exhausted lawyer has the best lines and gives by far the funniest performance, but even that’s faint praise. The few of David’s children who are characterised; pretentious morbid philosopher Viggo (Adam Chanler-Berat), unstintingly cheerful busker Adam (Dave Patten), smooth gay lothario Channing (Matthew Daddario); are all caricatures, transparently there to service David’s arc.

Scott seems uninterested in proffering anything other than naive optimism. Despite his 80k debt David manages to find money to intervene positively in the lives of his children. His wise Polish father (Andrzej Blumenfeld) notes that David is four times slower than most delivery men, but is beloved wherever he goes. But what’s so loveable about David’s m.o. of being hopelessly unreliable then occasionally making a grand gesture? As Tom Walker pointed out to me, Vaughn makes his obligatory rapid-fire speech telling some home truths. But Scott avoids numerous knotty questions. Where are the parents who raised the 142? How do they feel?  Why do none of the 142 express hurt to David? And what about the other 391 – the clear majority – who have no interest in finding out the identity of the man behind the sperm donor pseudonym Starbuck?

Delivery Man is perfectly fine, it’s neither a hilarious comedy nor a touching drama, but is content to plod along efficiently somewhere in between; but that’s not a recommendation, more a lack of condemnation.

2.5/5

Top 10 Films of 2013

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(10) Fast and Furious 6

This falls short of its illustrious immediate predecessor, but director Justin Lin’s sign-off to the Vin Diesel franchise he invigorated retained its Ocean’s 11 with petrol-heads vibe. A spectacular action sequence with a tank on a freeway, a charismatic villain with an outrageously designed car, and an over-busy finale as outsize as the runway it took place on were all elevated by a pervasive air of sadness. Poor Han…

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(9) Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence nuanced her formidable Hunger Games heroine with PTSD as she fought a deadly PR battle with President Donald Sutherland and his lieutenant Philip Seymour Hoffman. Confidence oozed from this movie, a quality noticeable in its expanded ensemble. Director Francis Lawrence’s trademark held shots and action tracks created a more rounded universe with complex villains as well as tense CGI suspense sequences in which the geography of the action was always nicely legible.

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 (8) Short Term 12

Newcomer Destin Cretton helmed his own prize-winning script about twenty-something counsellors at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers to beautiful effect. Brie Larson is outstanding as the enigmatic lead counsellor Grace, but nuanced turns from Kaitlyn Dever as possible abuse victim Jayden, Keith Stanfield as suicidal rapper Marcus, and John Gallagher Jr as Grace’s long-suffering boyfriend all draw us into an unfamiliar world detailed with insight, humour, and a tempered optimism.

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(7) White House Down

Roland Emmerich’s nonsensical Die Hard movie joyously proclaimed its debt (the villain ‘discovered’ a connection between the hero and a female hostage), paid off every plant in sight from President Obama Jamie Foxx’s Lincoln fandom to what Channing Tatum’s daughter’s six weeks honing a skill for her talent show, featured an aggressive right-wing news anchor who wouldn’t stop crying, and forced a miscast Maggie Gyllenhaal to commit so ferociously she grounded the whole thing.

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(6) Now You See Me

This Ocean’s 11 with magicians romp was gloriously insouciant crowd-pleasing fun that never flagged, and flirted with cliché but avoided its embrace. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco breezed thru flashily staged sequences of magical revenge against the 1% as their ‘Four Horsemen’ magicians caused chaos across America while being hunted by Mark Ruffalo (FBI/Scully) and Melanie Laurent (Interpol/Mulder) who began to wonder – can these be real magicks?

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(5) Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach combined as writers to potent effect for a film in thrall to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Its monochrome NYC looked incredible, the comedy was superb and clever, it used pop music to amazingly emotional effect, and it was based around an outstanding performance from Gerwig in a richly written part. From her money worries and anxieties at meeting richer people and more successful contemporaries, to her exaggerations about her success to hide embarrassment at her failures, to plain loopy decisions, this was a piercing, realistic insight into failure.

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(4) Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen mined a tragic vein as Cate Blanchett’s humbled socialite Jasmine stayed in San Francisco with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine tried to replace Ginger’s boyfriend Bobby Cannavale with Louis CK, and to replace her own dead tycoon husband (Alec Baldwin) with a widowed diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard). Two women’s romances and mental disintegration recalled Vicky Cristina Barcelona but this was far superior. Fantastic comedy from unsubtle suitors and Blanchett’s waspish tongue was combined with her extraordinary expressive portrayal of schizophrenic breaks from reality as she talked intimately to thin air, seeing people.

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(3) This is The End

Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut in which Seth, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride attempted to wait out the apocalypse in a Hollywood mansion stuffed with drugs and no food was a largely unstructured ramble from one absurd set-up to the next profane bout of self-indulgence, and it was fantastic. Emma Watson’s extended axe-wielding cameo was spectacular, the theology of how to survive the end of days was ludicrous, and the use of music reduced me to helpless tears of laughter; especially the final two songs.

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(2) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Writer/director David Lowery’s stunning tale of young criminals in love in 1970s Texas played out like Badlands re-imagined by Jeff Nichols. Rigorously under-lit by Bradford Young its glorious darkness created a moody, romantic atmosphere in which the abiding passion of parted lovers Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) assumed mythic proportions. Keith Carradine as Bob’s mentor and Ben Foster as the lawman Ruth once shot grounded this world, and Lowery built tension expertly around Bob’s escape from jail to Ruth to a suspenseful finale which ended with an image of savage grace.

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(1) Mud

Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returned with an Arkansan tale indebted to Mark Twain as a modern Huck and Tom helped Matthew McConaughey’s titular fugitive. Teenager Tye Sheridan gave a subtle turn as Ellis, who reacted to his parents’ disintegrating marriage by bonding with Mud and his unquenchable belief in true love, despite mysterious neighbour Sam Shepard’s warning that Mud was a fool in waiting for unreliable Reese Witherspoon. DP Adam Stone imbued the Arkansan locations with a heavenly sheen, and, while Mud hiding out a river island living in a boat in a tree observing local superstitions gave rise to great comedy, there was also Twain’s darkness in blood feuds. Nichols’ third film was rich, absorbing, cautiously optimistic, and lit by a deep affection for his characters.

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