Talking Movies

November 25, 2014

Mockingjay – Part I

 

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Jennifer Lawrence assumes her role as symbol of the revolution in the third instalment of The Hunger Games; which might be the best one yet.

Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is suffering from the experience of the Quarter Quell even more than the trauma of the original Hunger Games; hiding in tunnels, having panic attacks, and in total denial that her home, District 12, has been destroyed. Her rescuer Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has taken her to the underground bunker that houses the survivors of District 13’s destruction by the forces of the Capitol. He introduces her to President Coin (Julianne Moore), and, after, Katniss is allowed to see District 12 for herself, takes charge of turning Katniss into the Mockingjay – symbol of the Revolution. But it’s only after shooting a hysterically inept propaganda video that Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) makes a ‘Let Bartlett be Bartlett’ speech, and Katniss is allowed into combat; trailed by Plutarch’s recruit, film director Cressida (Natalie Dormer). Katniss’ raw reactions make her a weapon in a propaganda war, with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) taunting her with his own weapon – Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

“Moves and countermoves,” as Donald Sutherland whispers, are the substance of this film; and it makes for an unusual and shadowy blockbuster. The characters in the Capitol are distanced from us: President Snow only appears 5 times, Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci) are merely faces on giant television screens, other kidnapped victors are mentioned but not seen. The relationship of the air war of propaganda videos to the ground war of rebel action is shown by director Francis Lawrence utilising the ever-increasing budget to flesh out more and more of the geographical variety of the world of Panem. Loggers in District 7 rebelling against Snow’s increased quotas take up Katniss’ spontaneous rallying cry “If we burn, you burn with us” after her traumatic baptism of fire into the war in District 8. Rebels in District 5 turn Katniss’ folk-song, creatively edited by Plutarch, into a revolutionary marching song; like ‘John Brown’s Body’ morphing into the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’.

A long-take where Katniss walks down the ramp of a hovercraft which takes off to reveal the ruins behind her before we follow her as she walks into rubble exemplifies both Francis Lawrence’s masterful use of CGI and the exceptional sets. District 12 resembles Terminator 2’s skull-strewn future, a wave of humanity descending a spiral staircase in District 13 is rendered hypnotic, and Coin’s addresses to the populace in that bunker make you appreciate how poorly realised Zion was in the Matrix sequels. The decision to split Suzanne Collins’ novel in two is fully justified as Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (Recount, and also Jonathan from Buffy!) provide a screenplay that makes us fear anyone; including the ever stoic Gale (Liam Hemsworth); could die, ratchets up tensions for its suspenseful finale, and drops a truly creepy character detail during it to boot. Francis Lawrence rises to the challenge of creating a different type of Hunger Games movie, while Jennifer Lawrence retains Katniss’ fire while layering her with uncertainty.

Interstellar is the most intelligent blockbuster of 2014, but Mockingjay’s tactical battle might be the most interesting popcorn movie.

4/5

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November 20, 2014

Carte Noire IFI French Film Festival: 10 Films

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Les Combattants

Thursday 20th 18.30

Teenager Arnaud (Kevin Azais) meets surly Madeleine (Adele Haenel) during his summer holidays. His summer job of building garden sheds soon takes a back seat to falling in with her strange ambition to join a elite commando unit, as director Thomas Cailley mashes up the unlikely genre combination of rom-com, teen movie, and survivalist thriller.

The Blue Room

Friday 21st 19.15

Monday 24th 18.30

Mathieu Amalric directs himself as Julien in an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel co-written with his co-star Stephanie Cleau. A taut 76 minutes sees Julien’s affair with Esther (Cleau) lead to his arrest, and Amalric will do a Q&A after the Friday screening of his spare, stylish and mysterious noir.

Two in the Wave

Friday 21st 20.30

Emmanuel Laurent and Antoine de Baecque direct this feature documentary exploring the fractured friendship of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. They meet in 1950, work together in Cahiers du Cinema, collaborate on A Bout de Souffle, and part in 1968 over the necessity of engage: almost a politico-cultural history of the 5th Republic?

Mississippi Mermaid

Saturday 22nd 13.30

Francois Truffaut directs Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Denueve in a 1969 film that met a hostile reaction. Set on Reunion Island, the romantic thriller of the plot begins to take a back seat to Truffaut’s fascination with shooting Belmondo with the male gaze usually reserved for women, before latterly haring off in even stranger directions…

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Bird People

Saturday 22nd 18.15

Director Pascale Ferran will do a Q&A after the screening of a film that mixes the highly unusual influences of Peter Pan and The Host. Josh Charles stars as an American businessman who encounters chambermaid Anais Demoustier at Roissy Airport’s Hilton. Their unexpected connection inspires two chapters: one avowedly socially realistic, the other gleefully fantastical.

Love is the Perfect Crime

Saturday 22nd 21.00

College professor and renowned lecher Marc (Mathieu Amalric) lives with his sister Marianne (Karin Viard) next to his striking university in Lausanne. When his most recent student conquest disappears her mother Anna (Maiwenn) arrives to find her. Amalric will do a Q&A about the Brothers Larrieu unsettling comedy-thriller of amnesia and romance.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Sunday 23rd 16.30

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 spectacle sees actors and actresses, including Marina Vlady, act with his direction echoing in their earpieces while he comments in voiceover on the scenes he’s shooting, and also on what he’s been reading, thinking, and feeling generally… So, a barmier(!) companion piece to Belle de Jour.

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Diplomacy

Sunday 23rd 20.15

Director Volker Schlondorff oversees a veritable acting duel between A Prophet’s Niels Arestrup and Andre Dussollier in this adaptation of Cyril Gely’s play. General von Choltitz (Arestrup) has mined Paris at Hitler’s orders, and Swedish Consul General Nordling (Dussollier) secretly tries to dissuade him from carrying out his diabolical orders to wantonly destroy France’s cultural heritage.

The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles

Saturday 29th 18.00

Director Cecile Telerman will do a Q&A about her serious comedy starring Emanuelle Beart as a spoilt Parisian, Iris. Iris lives on her husband’s fortune, but her penurious sister Josephine (Un Secret’s Julie Depardieu) has been abandoned for crocodiles by her husband; to her woes are added writing Iris’ touted novel.

Hiroshima mon amour

Sunday 30th 16.00

Before Marienbad there was Hiroshima mon amour, in which Alain Resnais left documentaries behind for this 1959 attempt to speculate on the fate of Hiroshima. Following after Night and Fog he still incorporated documentary footage but asked novelist Marguerite Duras to provide him with a story exploring despair and the impossibility of knowing apocalypse.

November 19, 2014

Any Other Business: Part IX

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What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a ninth portmanteau post on television of course!

Celtic Noir

It seems I wasn’t hallucinating at the cinema a few weeks ago when I saw a teaser for An Bronntanas; in which a severed arm floated past with dead fish on a conveyor belt, a reveal I’d been expecting from the music and cinematography of the sequence; and immediately thought that was something that belonged in a Nordic Noir. TG4’s Deputy CEO, Pádhraic Ó Ciardha, says the series has broken new ground for the channel by establishing a new genre: Celtic Noir. “The direct audience feedback on social media, as well as in media commentary and reviews at home and abroad, confirms to us that An Bronntanas has hit the spot,” he said. “Regular viewers of our channel confirm that it delivers on their requirement for a súil eile approach to drama. Others remark on the innovative visual style and unique dramatic atmosphere – the Celtic Noir that has grabbed their attention in ways not unlike some recent Scandinavian TV crime drama”. TG4 has, as usual, gazumped RTE in showing the likes of Borgen and The Bridge, so it’s unsurprising that its audience noticed the family resemblance. Series Producer Ciarán Ó Cofaigh says, “We believe that we have delivered a drama series that can compete on a world stage. Personally, it is particularly satisfying to achieve this through the Irish language.” TG4 commissioned Fios Físe, a viewer panel solely comprising fluent Irish speakers, and found An Bronntanas being watched by over 60% of the panel, with approval ratings over 90%. Official TAM Ireland figures show the contemporary thriller has been seen by 340,000 people during the opening four episodes, making it one of TG4’s most popular original drama series ever. The show developed by Galway production company ROSG and Derry’s De Facto Films, cannily cast Cold Case star John Finn (famously unexpectedly fluent in Irish) alongside Dara Devaney (Na Cloigne), Owen McDonnell (Single Handed), Janusz Sheagall, and Charlotte Bradley; and added an impeccable sheen through cinematographer Cian de Buitléir capturing Connemara for director Tom Collins (Kings). The series finale of An Bronntanas airs tomorrow, Thursday 20th November, at 9.30pm on TG4. Check it out – its ambition stands in stark contrast to the drivel being perpetrated by RTE2 these days.

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Bright Lights, Tendentious Theses

I’ve been stewing in annoyance at Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities for some months now; and perhaps it’s the fact that rival art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has lately completed the second of two far superior BBC 4 shows (Art of China, The Art of Gothic) which has finally brought my ire with Dr James Fox’ series to the boil. Fox set out to show that the 20th Century had been shaped by events in three cities in three particular years: Vienna 1908, Paris 1928, New York 1951. So far, so interesting. Fox, however, frequently seemed to be less interested in presenting a coherent argument than in maintaining his snappy title’s cachet. Jack Kerouac, probably the worst case, was shoehorned into New York 1951 by dint of the fact that he wrote On the Road in 1951. On the Road was published in 1957. How can a work be influencing the zeitgeist if it’s not been published? It doesn’t matter when it was written. For all we know JD Salinger wrote the Great American Novel in 1985 but it’s lost in a steam-trunk in his old shed. But if it was published now it would be coming it devilishly high to talk about it as a critical intervention in the culture of Reagan’s America. Kerouac was the worst but by no means only example of Fox’s tendencies: Brando’s 1951 film performance in A Streetcar Named Desire was hailed, and the fact that he’d originated that part on Broadway in 1947 ignored; Lee Strasberg and his Method were hailed, and the fact that his pupil James Dean didn’t become a star till 1955 ignored; the Method was hailed in vague terms, but any in-depth analysis was eschewed – especially the cult-like tendencies of its adoption in America. The Sun Also Rises was too early for Paris 1928, so instead A Farewell to Arms was praised to the skies; despite being verily self-parody, and featuring a heroine rightly dismissed by Richard Yates in writing workshops. Gershwin’s An American in Paris was rendered more important in the scheme of things than Rhapsody in Blue because it fit Fox’s thesis; and to hell with any internal logic between shows as having bowed down to Schoenberg’s atonal serialism in the previous episode Gershwin’s melodicism was now equally valid – what is ‘modern’ is always wonderful, even if it contradicts what was ‘modern’ last Tuesday (which is no longer modern and therefore no longer valid). Fox is absorbing when he talks about art, but when he ventures into other fields he should take Andrew Graham-Dixon’s lead and, instead of creating titles that act as prisons, embrace wide-ranging titles that allow you to link between a few but carefully selected ideas in service of a convincing argument.

November 13, 2014

The Drop

 

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Bullhead director Michael R Roskam makes his Hollywood debut with a slow-burning crime thriller featuring James Gandolfini’s final film performance.

Bob (Tom Hardy) is a slow-moving soft-spoken Brooklyn lug who works as a bartender for Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), who is, to people’s permanent surprise, actually Bob’s cousin. But while the sign over the door says ‘Cousin Marv’s’ really the cousins work for the scary Chechen mob brothers Chovka (Michael Aronov) and Andre (Morgan Spector), who use it as a drop for cash from their other operations. When someone is crazy enough to rip off the drop-box Bob and Marv find themselves under pressure from Chovka to recover the stolen money. Complicating matters further for Bob is his finding of an abandoned abused dog, which leads to a tentative romance with Nadia (Noomi Rapace). It also leads to harassment from neighbourhood psycho Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), the suspected killer in a cold case that has Det. Torres (John Ortiz) circling…

Having provided the source material for Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island, novelist Dennis Lehane finally pens his first feature screenplay (after writing episodes of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) expanding his own short story ‘Animal Rescue’. This film has Lehane DNA: a palpable sense of blue-collar community, characters with lives beyond the plot-points; especially Marv’s tetchy house-sharing with his long-suffering sister Dottie (Ann Dowd); a doom-laden sense of horrors to come. But, somewhat inexplicably, it also has large amounts of Dead Man Down and Drive in its make-up. Noomi Rapace once again appears bearing scars of past traumas and manipulates a taciturn anti-hero. Shocking violence in a good cause is subverted in the best Winding Refn manner, and then sort of subverted back… There’s even a regrettable Equilibrium flashback in the instantly humanising effect of a puppy.

Roskam directs all this with some aplomb, with an emphasis on facial close-ups and gritty exteriors. Ortiz and Schoenaerts shine in support as the good and evil stalking around the central trio, with Schoenaerts in particular conveying tremendous menace and instability. An early scene where the Chechens unveil some grisly handiwork as a visual pep-talk serves up the steak that allows the film to largely unnerve on sizzle till its finale, to appropriate Stephen King’s analysis of Psycho, and Roskam lets the tension build slowly as Bob and Marv try and chase up some money only to find that events are spiralling out of control. Lehane holds back mightily on letting us inside Bob’s head, or letting us know what Det. Romsey (Elizabeth Rodriguze) is up to, as if he’s addicted to Shutter Island’s method of revelations through outrageous misdirection.

James Gandolfini’s last performance mixes resignation and frustration, and the film that houses it is a curious mixture of overly familiar elements and escalating suspense anchored by Hardy’s lumbering, kindly, but enigmatically unknowable presence.

3/5

World Book Day coming to Dublin

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World Book Day has revealed the live tour line-up for 2015’s The Biggest Book Show on Earth, which will live up to its name by featuring over 40 top authors and illustrators visiting ten locations throughout the UK and Ireland.

The Biggest Book Show on Earth was first established by World Book Day in 2012 in London. The first tour in 2014 saw the show visit five regions, and in 2015 events will run from 23rd February – 6th March; including a stopover in Dublin on March 4th which will feature Steven Butler, Derek Landy, David O’Doherty, and Chris Judge with more authors to be announced early 2015. Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, says: “I’m delighted to once again play my part in my home town for World Book Day, one of the most wonderful, positive campaigns going.”

The Biggest Book Show on Earth was conceived by Kirsten Grant, Director of World Book Day, alongside hand-picked local partners who will work with local schools to fill venues and coordinate book-selling for each event. Grant says: “World Book Day’s ultimate mission is to encourage a love of reading in all children, and by doubling our tour stops we’ve made a major step towards achieving this ambition. We’re bringing an amazing selection of children’s author and illustrator talent to over 14,000 children in the UK and Ireland. I hope that enjoying performances by so many brilliant authors will inspire children.” Bob Johnston, Chair of Bookseller’s Association Irish Branch and Dublin co-organiser, says: “We’re thrilled The Biggest Book Show on Earth is crossing the water and joining us in Dublin this year! World Book Day is a hugely popular event in Ireland and the tour means that we can celebrate it on a huge scale. With a stack-load of great authors taking part and hundreds of children coming along to participate we’re already getting very excited.”

World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and is marked in over 100 countries by a partnership of publishers, booksellers, and interested parties encouraging children to explore the pleasures of reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. To mark World Book Day on Thursday 5th March 2015 school children are entitled to receive a €1.50 Book Token provided by Irish booksellers. It can be exchanged for one of eleven specially published World Book Day titles, or against any book or audio book of their choice costing 3.99 or more at participating bookshops or book clubs.

More details about World Book Day and The Biggest Book Show on Earth can be found at www.worldbookday.com.

November 10, 2014

Interstellar

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Christopher Nolan redeems himself after the patchy The Dark Knight Rises with a hard tack into heavy-duty theoretical sci-fi in a mind-bending, oddly abstract blockbuster.

The McConaissance continues as Matthew McConaughey takes on the role of Cooper, a Texan engineer and pilot turned farmer in the near future. Cooper’s is a self-professed caretaker generation, trying to eke a subsistence living from a devastated planet with a collapsed population. Indeed Cooper’s daughter Murph is subjected to some Orwellian education about the futility of technological civilisation. But among the cornfields stalked by blight and storming dust-clouds there are still some people who dream big: NASA in hiding. Michael Caine’s wise professor and his icy daughter Brand (Anne Hathaway) convince Cooper to pilot their last ditch Lazarus mission, to travel through a wormhole next to Saturn in an attempt to find a new home for humanity. But as Cooper leaves an inconsolable Murph behind him, and joins fellow astronauts Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi), he finds that the search for humanity’s salvation seems oddly underpinned by losing all traces of humanity…

Interstellar is a bold change of pace for the Brothers Nolan. The script, written by Jonathan Nolan and then reworked by Christopher, sketches in this future world in the manner of a John Wyndham novel; taking for granted that we know about the macro which we actually only learn about when it impacts the micro world of Cooper and Murph. This leads to some double-take moments, such as Bill Irwin’s comic relief, which are amplified by Nolan’s insistence on secrecy. Some familiar faces appear to shocking effect, which would be dissipated by mentioning them; but among them is a cheerful cameo from William Devane aka 24’s President Heller. Interstellar could best be described as a version of Sunshine written not by Alex Garland, but instead boasting a screenplay by Rod Serling based on a story outline by Carl Sagan. Hard science of a theoretical bent mixes with a soured vision of humanity’s worst tendencies being dominant.

Interstellar is unlikely to get as fond a welcome as previous Nolan movies, but it does have much in common with them; from the Twilight Zone finale like The Prestige, to simultaneous set-pieces as adult Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Cooper wrestle with similar dilemmas like Inception. Hans Zimmer’s score avoids nearing Richard Strauss’ template by borrowing Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible organ and plugging it into a million IMAX amplifiers; achieving solemnity (without melody) by dint of volume. The replacement of Wally Pfister as DP by Hoyte van Hoytema doesn’t jar, but the changeover is aided by the fact that a very different cinematic world is being captured than that of the Nolan/Pfister paradigm. Nolan wrings good performances from his large cast, with Mackenzie Foy blowing Jessica Chastain off the screen as the younger iteration of the indomitable Murph, and McConaughey counteracting the heartless science of the Brand family with the emotional sensitivity of the Coopers.

Interstellar walks a tricky high-wire, attempting to create a heart-rending family saga dependent for its emotion on theoretical physics being literalised in a way that defeats traditional blockbuster visuals.

4/5

November 6, 2014

Ignite Mayo: Silent Moves

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Irish visual artist Aideen Barry and Ballina-based disability organisations are working together to produce a stop-motion animated film entitled Silent Moves. Inspired by the silent films of the 1920s Silent Moves will meld mime, music and movement with the latest animation techniques. The project is one of three “Ignite” commissions which represent the largest ever investment in Ireland’s arts and disability sector. Silent Moves will be launched in Ballina Arts Centre, 7pm Friday 28th November.

Work is well underway, with Aideen Barry; known for her performance, film, sculpture, drawing and installation work; working with artists from Western Care Ridgepool Training Centre and members of Scannán Technologies group, along with dancer/choreographer Emma O’Kane. New green screen technologies and advanced animation techniques are being used to create the film, which is inspired by the silent cinema of the 1920s, the celebrated era of Douglas Fairbanks, Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton.

The art work will be launched in Ballina Arts Centre in the last week of November, and have a longer showing in the gallery space in 2015. The commission will also produce a high-quality accessible publication to accompany the work.

Aideen Barry is a visual artist based in the west of Ireland, known internationally for her practise as a contemporary artist. Her work has won the COE Award, the Project New Work Award (Arts Council of Ireland), the Silent Light Film Award (Cork Film Centre), and Best Experimental Work (2011 San Francisco International Animation Festival). She lectures in GMIT and Limerick School of Art & Design, and in 2010 was shortlisted for the prestigious AIB prize. She is known for her advocacy for visual arts, and her collaborations with artists with intellectual disabilities includes 2012’s Jessica Casey & Other Works printed publication and video project.

Barry says of the project, “Without the use of words or sounds, silent movies make us splutter with laughter, break our hearts, win them over again, and take us through a world of chaos to a moment of pure charm, without once uttering a word. The world is silent for all of us. For we process each of our everyday experiences, our heartbreaks, our joys ultimately on our own, in our own silent world, in our minds. Our silent moving image works take as starting points what it is to be a person, what it feels to be in love, what it feels to be bashful, what it feels to be hurt, and, together, through movement and gesture we have tried to encapsulate our experiences in front of the camera.”

Sean Walsh, Director of the Ballina Arts Centre, says, “For the past six years, Ballina Arts Centre has made a deliberate effort to push the agenda of disability arts. We are delighted to be working with Aideen Barry and Emma O’Kane on, what I feel, is a beautiful idea. Film, as an art form, offers huge potential. We’ve worked with the Ridgepool Training Centre and the Scannán Technologies groups for a good number of years now, and have completed very successful, ambitious projects with them both. This is the culmination of all that work and we’re all really looking forward to seeing the finished artwork.”

“Ignite” is a new platform designed to generate Ireland’s most ambitious showcasing of talent from people with disabilities, led by international and Irish artists and performers with disabilities, with projects taking place in 2014 and 2015 in Galway, Mayo and Cork. These commissions each represent an investment of up to €60,000. The initiative will conclude with a tour of one of the resulting works to all three counties (and beyond) in 2015. Mayo “Ignite” is facilitated by the Ballina Arts Centre, and “Ignite” is managed by a unique partnership involving the Arts Council, Arts & Disability Ireland (ADI), Cork City Council, Galway City and County Councils, and Mayo County Council.

Pádraig Naughton (Executive Director, Arts & Disability Ireland), says, “‘Ignite’ is an opportunity to dream big and make real, new and innovative work by artists with disabilities, on a scale never before seen in Ireland.” Arts Council Director, Orlaith McBride, says, “These collaborations will generate Ireland’s most ambitious and wide-ranging showcasing of talent from people with disabilities.” Silent Moves certainly intrigues as a concept, and, following public affection for The Artist, its similar reimagining of silent cinema, exploiting advances in technology to make possible what would have been impossible shots for Chaplin and Keaton, should guarantee it a wide audience.

For further information see: www.irelandignite.ie

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