Talking Movies

January 30, 2015

Son of a Gun

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Ewan McGregor rediscovers his charisma as Australia’s most notorious armed robber in what’s probably his best movie since Moulin Rouge!

Innocuous surfer dude JR (Brenton Thwaites) arrives in jail, where his flowing locks are transformed into a buzz-cut. A pretty boy like him has much to fear on the inside. His cellmate is raped every day by hard-man Dave (Sam Hutchin), and JR’s interest in famous prisoner Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor) is frowned upon by Brendan’s protection detail Sterlo (Matt Nable) and Merv (Eddie Baroo). However, after JR reveals a flair for chess Brendan decides to take him under his wing. All he needs is a small favour once JR gets released in a few months… And so begins JR’s initiation into the dangerous world of the Russian mob led by Sam (Jacek Koman). A trip to arms dealer Wilson (Damon Herriman) and a visit from Sam’s much younger girlfriend Tasha (Alicia Vikander) later and JR’s part of a heist…

Son of a Gun is a hard-edged caper movie with a strong romantic undercurrent. Director Julius Avery makes his feature debut working from his own script, with a polish from Master & Commander scribe John Collee, and it’s bursting with confidence. The chemistry between Thwaites and Vikander is palpable from their first meeting and Nigel Bluck’s cinematography of their night-time drive in a fast car is positively swoon-worthy. McGregor’s movie career has never lived up to the promise of his first few features, but this is the first film he’s made in quite some time where he’s giving a damn fine performance in a damn fine movie. His Lynch is charming, but also ruthless at the flick of a switch; combining both in a deliriously jump-started interrogation scene where he doesn’t have the patience to properly torture someone for information.

In a strong ensemble Koman, Moulin Rouge!’s resident narcoleptic, also switches between businessman and thug, while Vikander’s moll is a no-nonsense creation, and Herriman’s arms dealer is as eccentric as you’d expect from Justified’s Dewey Crowe. The only wrong note is Tom Budge as Sam’s nephew Josh – a character scripted purely for structural reasons. When Sam insists that entitled brat Josh be part of the intricate gold heist you set your stop-watch to see how long till he screws it all up. That quibble, and a slightly over-extended finale, aside Avery’s movie rattles along with confidence. There are a number of excellently choreographed set-pieces; a prison break worthy of Mesrine: Killer Instinct, a gloriously worked-out heist of a gold-mine, a terrific car-chase; while the romance between JR and Tasha and a number of double-crosses keep you engaged and second-guessing yourself.

Parker is the most recent Hollywood reference point for this popcorn mix of violence and romance, and McGregor’s sparkling turn outdoes fellow Brit The State’s criminal mastermind, while the romance is far better developed.

3.5/5

January 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director Matthew Vaughn eschews the current gritty James Bond formula for an R-rated absurdist spy fantasy from Mark Millar’s comic-book.

Kingsman begins as it means to go on; tongue firmly-in-cheek; as terrible CGI explosions rock a Middle Eastern fortress, only for the falling stones to form into the title credits. Our hero Galahad (Colin Firth) is on a mission that goes fatally wrong, leading him to pay his respects to the widowed Michelle (Samantha Womack), and give a promise of aid, if ever needed, to her infant son Gary. Nearly two decades later a Kingsmen rescue of kidnapped climate change expert Professor Arnold (a cameo too good to spoil here) goes awry. A replacement Lancelot must be recruited, and all the Kingsmen must put forward a candidate. At this precise moment Gary, now known as Eggsy (Taron Egerton), gets into deep trouble with his criminal stepfather Dean (Geoff Bell), and calls in Galahad’s favour. Galahad proposes Gary as the new Lancelot, and so begins a dangerous mentoring in privatised espionage…

Kingsman is a blast. There’s a certain X-Men: First Class vibe to the Lancelot competition presided over by Merlin (Mark Strong) at a country house, with nice class warfare between chav Eggsy and upper-crust Digby (Nicholas Banks) and Charlie (Edward Holcroft). Egerton is endearing as someone hiding his potential because of his circumstances, and Sophie Cookson as sympathetic toff Roxy is a winning foil. Less sympathetic is the leader of the Kingsmen, Arthur (Michael Caine). There’s an odd meta-textual dance here between Egerton having played toff in Testament of Youth and cockney Caine’s enthronement as a cinematic elder. But that’s as nothing compared to the meta-madness when Galahad discusses old Bond films with lisping tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson). Firth is effectively playing The Avengers’ Mr Steed, and loving it, while Jackson seems to be nodding to his Unbreakable role as a squeamish super-villain, with a surprisingly interesting motivation, who delegates murder to lethal blade-runner henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).

Vaughn’s use of music deserves special mention. Eggsy’s car-thieving exploits are rousingly accompanied by Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, a surrealist gore-fest is played out to the strains of Elgar (in what feels oddly like a nod to Dr Strangelove), and then there’s ‘Freebird’… Vaughn tops Cameron Crowe’s demented use of that song in Elizabethtown, and, given that Crowe had a band rocking out on the guitar solo and determinedly ignoring the giant flaming bird flying past, that’s saying something. A vicious sermon by the great Corey Johnson is interrupted by utter carnage as Galahad gets embroiled in a fight to the death with the entire congregation. If The Matrix lobby scene used a high concept to banish guilt over massacres by heroes this pushes the envelope even further. Cinematographer George Richmond and Vaughn close up on the action and deploy a grainier look to hide cheats in their sustained bloodthirsty mayhem. And what mayhem it is – a choreographed wonder of continual stabbing, shooting, garrotting, strangling, bludgeoning that produces jaw-dropped, impressed disbelief.

There’re quibbles to be had, notably the rather tasteless use of Hanna Alstrom’s Swedish princess and the sudden ending, but Kingsman’s bloody good fun.

4/5

January 27, 2015

Top Performances of 2014

As the traditional complement to the Top 10 Films, here are the Top Performances of 2014. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as top of the class, the runners up being right behind them, with also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.

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Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) Arquette’s character grows older but not wiser, instead we see her becomingly increasingly brittle as even she realises that she’s sensible about everything except her romantic choices.

Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) Forming a great double act with Ben Affleck, Coon broke out from theatre with a glorious turn as his twin sister– the foulmouthed and spiky voice of reason.

Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) Lawrence was perhaps too young for the part, but she played it with such comic panache that her sporadic appearances energised an overlong film.

Runners Up:

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Frank) Gyllenhaal was pitch-perfect as scary obscurantist Clara, with wonderful nuance in the slow reveal of how such off-kilter music bonds her and Frank’s damaged and isolated psyches.

Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) Foy was bright, furious, and resentful, and blew Jessica Chastain off the screen as the younger iteration of their character, the indomitable Murph.

Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) Paulson’s casual brutality towards slaves was deeply shocking, but her horror at being replaced sexually by a slave subtly underscored her menace.

Also Placed:

Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill) Parodying her hyper-sexualised persona (The Informers) Heard, in leathers and wigs, flirted with burlesque girls and sexualised both driving fast and injecting medicine.

Joey King (Wish I Was Here) Pitted against Zach Braff’s glibly sarcastic agnosticism the sincerity of King’s adherence to Jewish faith, language, and cultural identity blew him off the screen.

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Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) His character’s drugs spiral, even as his friendship with Ron becomes beautiful, was extremely moving, with his fierce commitment extending to deliberately ravaging his appearance.

Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) His vicious bible-thumping alcoholic was terrifying, but also complex; slaves are either sub-human or masters are guilty, and Epps is self-destructing from mercilessly exploiting his slaves.

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) Hawke physically filled out in a career-best performance of serious comedy as deadbeat dad whose rebelliousness was an affectation thrown off for mellow acquiescence with the world.

Runners Up:

Andrew Scott (The Stag, Locke) Scott was their sole highlight: his Locke vocal performance exuded excitability and exasperation, while Davin was a man fatally wounded by romantic rejection being tortured some more by his ex-girlfriend.

Killian Scott (Calvary, ’71) His Calvary misfit Milo was dementedly funny in rambling frustration, and he so transformed into ruthless IRA leader Quinn that he seemed not only older and tougher, but almost taller.

Zac Efron (Bad Neighbours) Efron’s previous subversions of his image were nothing next to this jackpot: his squeaky clean looks have never been put to such diabolical and hilarious use.

James Corden (Begin Again) Corden not only frequently gave the impression that he was ad-libbing great comedy moments, but also that he was improvising Knightley into unscripted corpsing bonhomie.

Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) Bautista took what could have been a tiresome running gag and instead by dedicated deadpan made utter literalness to the point of insanity infinitely unexpected and hysterical.

Also Placed:

Adam Driver (What If, Tracks) Sparring against Mackenzie Davis and Daniel Radcliffe in What If he was highly amusing and occasionally sagacious, and was both funny and adorably awkward in Tracks.

Gene Jones (The Sacrament) He was patently playing Jim Jones, and turned the charisma up to 11 for a TV interview that was so mesmerising it explained Father’s cult of personality.

Mandy Patinkin (Wish I Was Here) Patinkin brought deep humanity and biting humour to his wise, religious father disappointed by his glib, agnostic son but delighted by his bright, devout granddaughter.

Tyler Perry (Gone Girl) The man can actually act! And as celebrity defence attorney Tanner Bolt he transformed the oily character from the novel by bringing palpable warmth to the part.

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Best Actress

Keira Knightley (Begin Again) Knightley sang rather well, but not only did she carry a tune she also carried the movie with a return of her old confidence. Maybe all that’s needed to restore the old swagger is James Corden ad-libbing her into improvising so she forgets her stage-fright.

Mackenzie Davis (We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, What If) Her What If wild child was oddly reminiscent of Katy Perry, albeit interpolated with Daisy Buchanan, and was strikingly different from her reserved bookworm subtly using her wits to escape a noir nightmare in We Gotta.

Runners Up:

Rose Byrne (Bad Neighbours) It’s always a joy when Byrne gets to use her native Australian accent, and she swaggered with such foul-mouthed comedic assurance that at times Seth Rogen became her foil as the sensible one in their marriage.

Agyness Deyn (Electricity) Deyn was a commanding presence. She grabbed with both hands this defiant character, who wears short dresses and fluorescent jacket; drawing the eye to a body covered in cuts; and had no vanity in showing these effects of seizures.

Also Placed:

Juno Temple (Magic Magic) Temple reprised some elements of her naïf in Killer Joe, though thankfully she was less over-exposed here, and made her character’s steady descent into insomniac madness chillingly plausible.

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Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) McConaughey’s physical commitment to the role was jaw-dropping, initially rake-thin before then wasting away before your eyes to harrowing effect. Initially unsympathetic, he patiently revealed the hidden softer side which engaged Dr Eve, and beautifully developed an unlikely and most affecting friendship with Rayon.

Runners Up:

Daniel Radcliffe (What If) Radcliffe is sensational as the hero who’s crippled romantically by his traumatised desire to act ethically. A Young Doctor’s Notebook served notice of his comedy chops, but combining uncomprehending deadpan and dramatic sharpness this was a comic role of unexpected substance.

Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again) It’s hard to imagine anyone else, save 1973 Elliot Gould, pulling off this role quite as well. The Ruffalo exudes immense shambolic charm, shuffling about in scruffy clothes, doing permit-free guerrilla location live music recording that would make Werner Herzog proud.

Dan Stevens (The Guest) The Guest is a high-risk gamble that would fail spectacularly if its leading man was not on fire. Luckily for all concerned Stevens burns a hole in the screen with a Tom Hiddleston as Loki level performance – playing scenes tongue-in-cheek serious as the charismatic helpful stranger.

Also Placed:

Ben Affleck (Gone Girl) Affleck as an actor too often contentedly coasts, and (even when gifted zingers as in Argo) acts as a still centre. But, with Fincher pushing him with endless takes, he was fantastic as the hapless everyman; who we root for despite his flaws.

Pal Sverre Hagen (Kon-Tiki, In Order of Disappearance) The imposing Norwegian perfectly captured old-fashioned grit, naive enthusiasm, and quiet heroism as Thor Heyerdahl, and then played crime-lord The Count as an epically self-pitying vegan equally stressed by divorced parenting with his ex-wife, and a nasty turf war with Serbian mobsters.

January 23, 2015

A Most Violent Year

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1981 was the worst year on record for violent crime in New York City, and that threat hangs over director JC Chandor’s absorbing period drama.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a driven entrepreneur in the business of supplying the oil that gets New York thru its winters. He is buying a coveted piece of real estate from a Hasidic dynasty, but needs an awful lot of money to cover the sale or he loses his huge deposit and the tract of land; and with it the chance to trump his rivals. But things are unravelling. The government in the form of Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is ready to indict his business practices, somebody – possibly his rivals Peter Forente (Alessandro Nivola) and Gleen Fleshler (Arnold Klein) – are hijacking his trucks and stealing his oil, his protégé Julian (Elyes Gabel) has been severely injured in one of these jackings, and Teamster Peter Gerety (Bill O’Leary) is threatening a strike if Abel doesn’t arm his vulnerable fleet of drivers.

A Most Violent Year despite the menacing title isn’t a violent film. But from the outset, when you realise that driving a truck thru a toll-booth can lead to getting jumped, it has an unnerving tension. JC Chandor sets his film in 1981 New York, and seemingly sets out to replicate the 1970s New Hollywood in doing so. Frank G DeMarco who shot Chandor’s previous films Margin Call and All is Lost with a crisp clarity is replaced as cinematographer by Bradford Young. I raved about Young’s atmospheric under-lighting of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and here he channels 1970s DP Gordon Willis (aka Prince of Darkness) for rich, underlit interiors of browns and dark gold. And if certain scenes look like The Godfather then Oscar Isaac is on the same wavelength as a certain Pacino quality comes off his performance.

But this is Michael Corleone determined to remain on the straight and narrow. Abel’s wife Anna (Jessica Chastain in 1980s mobster moll mode) is the daughter of a connected man, but Abel is adamant that he wants to win by staying clean. Such morality confuses his attorney Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks), who foresees disaster if Abel doesn’t learn to play dirty in a bent town. The control on display by writer/director Chandor is intimidating. This is a very precise film. Even action scenes, like a thrilling truck chase in a tunnel, feel exacting; and a foot-chase along a spaghetti junction with a steadicam recalls Marathon Man. But, as with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, there’s a point at which this Biskind-led valorisation of New Hollyood becomes crippling. How can you make it new, as Pound demanded of art, if you’re in thrall to making it like they did in 1975?

Chandor is an intriguing film-maker – he’s made three films, all wildly different, but each time characterised by singular vision.

4/5

January 20, 2015

The Walworth Farce

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The Olympia Theatre stages its second star-studded Enda Walsh play in six months as the Gleeson family throw themselves into an extravaganza of physical theatre.

The play opens with proud Corkman Dinny (Brendan Gleeson) in the living room, matching a hideous yellow tie to his hideous blue suit. In the bathroom of their quietly disintegrating London flat son Blake (Domhnall Gleeson) is shaving his legs. They are both preparing for their day while Dinny’s other son Sean (Brian Gleeson) is out shopping. Once Sean is back, wigs and dresses can be donned, and a ritual can begin: Dinny relates the story of his mother’s funeral and the reading of her will. His sons stand in for all other characters while he plays himself; possibly the sincerity of his interpretation is the reason that every day he wins the acting trophy. But today Sean has stage-managed badly, bringing home a sausage. “It’s just not working without the chicken,” laments Dinny – which made me think  of “This chicken is the only real thing here, so I’m going to work with it” – but not only has Sean not supplied the needful props, he’s also accidentally invited an audience…

The Walworth Farce becomes an acting showcase for the Gleesons. Brendan’s charisma is such that he’s able to maintain our sympathy as the overbearing Dinny, despite some horrendous physical abuse where slapstick moments result in real injuries. Brian is the straight man, performing the part of Dinny’s put-upon brother, while in reality he is the quiet, defeated son; horrified at having bungled the shopping, but also excited by the prospect of escaping this life. Domhnall is remarkable, his physicality encompasses sitting with his leg wrapped behind his head, and playing three female characters with three distinct voices (and three different wigs, and, thanks to Velcro, outfits); running from place to place to carry on conversations with himself in different guises. Aside from the manic comedy he also registers the fear Dinny has instilled in his boys of dangerous London – dead bodies waiting to rise up from the footpaths and grab you – and resentful fury when their routine is interrupted by frightfully enthusiastic Tesco assistant Hayley (Leona Allen), luring away Sean.

It’s odd seeing this 2006 play after 2014’s Ballyturk. In both plays manic enacting of absurdist small-town bickering is interrupted by a stranger. Hayley is initially amused, then bored, and finally terrified by the ritual – and, unlike Ballyturk, which remains defiantly oblique, we know that the trio perform the routine because Dinny needs to in order to function; so that her attempts to take Sean away are fraught with danger for both herself and Sean. Walworth is less abstract than Ballyturk. Paul Keogan brightly lights the performance, while reality is subdued and sinister. Alice Power’s set of half-shown walls convincingly depicts a decaying flat: a bathroom with a hole in the wall, a bedroom with a bunk-bed and a ‘dining room’ sign with a coffin laid over two chairs, a kitchen, a sitting room with a curious wheelchair. Yet, when a knife appears, your stomach knots in dread, and you realise that there is no rational way to predict where, or in whom, it will end up by the curtain.

Director Sean Foley’s track record in exuberant, slapstick comedy is a perfect match for Walsh’s mania, but he also brings out these trapped players’ tender desperation, and the almost Pinterish edge that Hayley’s arrival brings to this family dynamic.

4/5

The Walworth Farce continues its run at the Olympia Theatre until the 8th of February.

January 15, 2015

Testament of Youth

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Alicia Vikander stars as Vera Brittain in a harrowing adaptation of her celebrated memoir of love and death in WWI.

In the pre-war idyll we meet Vera (Vikander) swimming with her beloved brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and her diffident suitor Victor Richardson (Colin Morgan). She is furious when she discovers Edward has been distracting her to allow the installation of a piano, a present from their father (Dominic West) designed to take her mind off going to Oxford. But Vera is determined to sit the entrance exam, and the support of Edward and Edward’s school-friend Roland (Kit Harington) forces Mt Brittain to allow her try. She makes an unfavourable impression on Miss Lorimer (Miranda Richardson), the don running Somerville, but wins a place. Her joy is short-lived. Roland, driven by duty, volunteers as an officer; and Edward follows suit. Soon Vera herself volunteers, as a nurse; and the horrors she witnesses only increase her need to get nearer the front.

Initially this film of Testament of Youth feels in the shadow of Parade’s End, owing to the superficial resemblance of a suffragette falling for a man defined by his sense of duty who volunteers for the trenches as soon as war is declared. And the domestic sphere is of great interest: Vera throws over Victor for the more antagonistic Roland, who is the son of a famous writer Mrs Leighton (Anna Chancellor), but must still settle for the conservative chaperoning of their walking-outs by Aunt Belle (Joanna Scanlan). Vikander is nicely steely and abrasive as Vera, a woman given to speaking her mind and expecting people to listen. Harington is a good foil as the man she initially misjudges, but who has unexpected depths. Hayley Atwell’s cameo as a nurse is wonderful, the only true comic note in the film.

Director James Kent steps up from the likes of The Thirteenth Tale for the BBC for a handsomely mounted period drama that becomes almost unendurably sad by the end. This is partly because of his very clever casting which makes you feel the trauma of war’s losses. Along with Journey’s End, Goodbye to All That, and All Quiet on the Western Front, Testament of Youth was one of the artistic responses to the war that shaped perception of the conflict. Screenwriter Juliette Towhidi, previously best known for adapting Cecilia Ahern’s Love, Rosie, shows a sure hand in balancing Vera’s growing despair about the war with the Anglican mysticism of Edward’s friend Geoffrey Thurlow (Jonathan Bailey) towards the slaughter. Kent and Towhidi fashion a heartbreaking visual metaphor by a montage of silent shots of familiar places with the characters now absent…

Testament of Youth is an impressive film largely because of the mounting emotional effect of the successive disappearance of everyone Vera loves. By the end she really is, as someone suggests, surrounded by ghosts.

3.5/5

Wild

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Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail solo in the mid-90s to find herself, now Reese Witherspoon hikes it cinematically in search of another Oscar.

Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon), an ex-junkie recently divorced from patient husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), sets out to walk from California to Washington State, a distance of over 1,000 miles – solo. As she walks she’s aided in her ambitious trek by friendly farmer Frank (W Earl Brown), helpful hiker Greg (Kevin Rankin), and unlikely named journalist Jimmy Carter (Mo McRae). But while other people can help with the logistics of hiking the PCT (her backpack is instantly nicknamed Monster by fellow hikers for its excessiveness), nobody can aid her when it comes to the inner emotional journey which takes up just as much screen-time, and is the reason for the PCT attempt: dealing with her grief over the early death from cancer of her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), and her anger at her ne’er-do-well brother Leif (Keene McRae) not pulling his weight.

Wild is not a likeable film. When Strayed begins the trek; not having tested how heavy her backpack would be when full, not having practised setting up a tent, and not having checked what kind of fuel her portable stove takes; you can only flashback to the detestably naive protagonist of 2007’s Into the Wild. Witherspoon is transparently attempting to win an Oscar. You can almost see the calculations on the back of a napkin: true story, multiple nude scenes, hard drug use, a story of redemption – Bingo! Worse, you start to suspect from Nick Hornby’s script that wannabe writer Strayed did the trek purely to be able to write a confessional non-fiction book about doing the trek. The American wilderness seems to inspire cinematically a sort of drivelling poetical mash-up of Frederic Jackson Turner, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jack Kerouac.

Strayed writes mottoes from great writers in station-books, and Dallas Buyers Club Jean-Marc Vallee is reduced to having her accompanied by a highly symbolic CGI fox… Wild is uncomfortable viewing because, as college boys Josh (Will Cuddy), Rick (Leigh Parker), and Richie (Nick Eversman) note, Strayed is the ‘Queen of the PCT’ – people obsequiously make things easy for her, because she’s a woman – but she’s also constantly threatened with rape, especially by roving hunters TJ (Charles Baker) and Clint (JD Evermore). It’s also unrewarding, because Strayed’s reaction to grief is Jennifer Lawrence’s self-destructive spiral in Silver Linings Playbook. But we see it, and are then asked to give a Kerouacian mystical assent to sex addiction and heroin as being somehow positive because they led her to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington – and her perorating non-epiphany of an epiphany.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’ is effectively used, the scenery is great, Dern is vivacious, and Strayed’s interior monologue is wise-cracking, but Wild while engaging lacks true heart.

3/5

January 12, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

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(10) X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer triumphantly linked X-ensembles as Wolverine time-travelled from a Sentinels-devastated future to 1973 to prevent Mystique assassinating Bolivar Trask and being captured by Stryker. X-2 vim was displayed in Quicksilver’s mischievous Pentagon jail-break sequence, J-Law imbued Mystique with a new swagger as a deadly spy, and notions of time itself course-correcting any meddling fascinated. The pre-emptive villainy of Fassbender’s young Magneto seemed excessive, but it didn’t prevent this being superb.

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(9) The Guest

Dan Stevens was preposterously charismatic as demobbed soldier David who ‘helped’ the Peterson family with their problems while director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett riffed on Dominik Moll and Stephen King archetypes. Wingard edited with whoops, Stephen Moore’s synth combined genuine feeling with parody, ultraviolent solutions to Luke (Brendan Meyer) and Anna (Maika Monroe)’s problems were played deliriously deadpan, a military grudge-match was staged with flair: all resulted in a cinema of joyousness.

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(8) Mystery Road

Writer/director Ivan Sen’s measured procedural almost resembled an Australian Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Aaron Pedersen’s dogged Detective Jay Swan battled official indifference as well as suspicion from his own community as he investigated an Aboriginal teenager’s death. Strong support, from Tamsa Walton as his estranged wife and Hugo Weaving as a cop engaged in some dodgy dealings, kept things absorbing until a climactic and startlingly original gun-battle and a stunning final image.

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(7) In Order of Disappearance

Nils (Stellan Skarsgaard), snow-plougher and newly-minted citizen of the year, embarks on a killing spree when authorities deem his son’s murder an accident. Nils’ executions accidentally spark all-out war between the Serbian gang of demoralized Papa (Bruno Ganz) and the Norwegian gang of self-pitying and stressed-out vegan The Count (Pal Sverre Hagen). Punctuated by McDonaghian riffs on the welfare state and Kosovo provocations, this brutal fun led to a perfectly daft ending.

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(6) Frank

Director Lenny Abrahamson loosened up for Jon Ronson’s frequently hilarious tale of oddball musicians. Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon joined the band of benevolent melodist Frank (Michael Fassbender wearing a giant head) and scary obscurantist Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Great comedy was wrung from Jon viewing writing hit music as a means to fortune and glory, but then affecting drama when music was revealed as the only means by which damaged souls Frank and Clara could truly connect.

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(5) Begin Again

Once director John Carney delivered a feel-good movie as Mark Ruffalo’s desperate record executive took a chance on a guerilla recording approach when he discovered British troubadour Keira Knightley performing in a bar. The Ruffalo was on glorious shambling form, and was matched by an exuberant Knightley; who in many scenes seemed to be responding to comic ad-libbing by James Corden as her college friend. Carney was surprisingly subversively structurally, perfectly matched Gregg Alexander’s upbeat music to sunny NYC locations, and stunt-casted wonderfully with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine as Knightley’s sell-out ex.

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(4) Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan’s wondrously ambiguous thriller saw Tom (Dolan) bullied by his dead lover’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), into keeping Guillaume’s sexuality hidden from mother Agathe (Lise Roy); but exactly why Guillaume had elided Francis’ existence, and why Francis needed Tom to stay at the remote Quebec farm, remained murky. Dolan showed off subtly; the lurid colours getting brighter during an ever-darkening monologue in a bar; and flashily; expressionistly changing screen format during violent scenes; and deliriously; a transgressive tango on a nearly professional standard dance-floor unexpectedly hidden in a barn.

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(3) Gone Girl

David Fincher turned in a 2 ½ hour thriller so utterly absorbing it flew by. Ben Affleck’s everyman found himself accused of murdering his icy wife Rosamund Pike. Only twin sister and spiky voice of reason Carrie Coon stood by him as circumstantial evidence and media gaffes damned him. Fincher, particularly in parallel reactions to a TV interview, brought out black comedy that made this a satire on trial by media, while, from fever dreams of arresting beauty to grand guignol murder and business with a hammer, making this material his own.

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(2) Dallas Buyers Club

Quebecois director Jean-Marc Vallee drew incredibly committed performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in this harrowing drama. McConaughey wasted away before our eyes as Ron Woodroof, an archetypal good ole boy diagnosed with HIV, who reacted to his terminal diagnosis with total denial before smuggling drugs. Leto matched McConaughey’s transformation as transvestite Rayon, who sought oblivion in heroin, even as he helped Woodroof outwit the FDA via the titular group. This was an extremely moving film powered by Woodroof and Rayon’s friendship, beautifully played from initial loathing to brotherly love.

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(1) Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater’s dazzling technical achievement in pulling off a twelve-year shoot was equalled by the finished film’s great heart. The life of Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to eighteen in Texas with mother Patricia Arquette, sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and weekend dad Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) was followed in seamless transitions with teasing misdirection and subtle reveals. Child performances that began in comedy grew thru shocking scenes to encompass depth of feeling. Hawke gave a wonderful performance of serious comedy, Arquette grew older but not wiser, and Linklater was richly novelistic in revealing how surface facades belied the truth about characters and personality formation defied self-analysis. Watching Boyhood is to be wowed by life itself; your own nostalgia mixes with Mason Jr’s impressively realised youth.

January 8, 2015

She Stoops to Conquer

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Oliver Goldsmith’s classic 1773 comedy gets an extremely exuberant production as the Abbey Theatre’s Christmas production directed by Conall Morrison.

Miss Hardcastle (Caroline Morahan) is threatened with a lover. Her father, the amiable Mr Hardcastle (Jon Kenny), is looking to marry her off to Marlow (Marty Rea); the son of his dear friend Sir Charles (Mark Lambert). She, however, is put off by Marlow’s reputation for extreme diffidence with women. The diffidence, however, only applies to women of his own class; Marlow is a rake with bar-wenches. And when her half-brother Tony Lumpkin (David Pearse) decides to play a trick on the conceited Marlow and his travelling companion Hastings (Rory Nolan) by directing them to chez Hardcastle as the local inn, Miss Hardcastle gets to see both sides of her putative suitor as Marlow and Hastings live it up to the dismay of Mr Hardcastle. Hastings, meanwhile, is wooing Miss Neville (Janet Moran), who is trying to get her inheritance of jewels out of the clutches of Mrs Hardcastle (Marion O’Dwyer) without having to marry her cousin Tony for them.

The play is puzzlingly relocated to Ireland by changing some references, but, unlike Rough Magic’s take on The Critic, this seems a half-abandoned high concept. There’s a sort of dangerous ahistoricity in thinking that the Big House represents the same thing in England and Ireland in 1773. And when Marlow, Hastings, and Miss Hardcastle all speak in RP tones it’s easiest to just deem it an eccentric method of representing the English urban/rural divide. Goldsmith’s comedy is played extremely broadly, with an emphasis on slapstick, and a fourth wall that never stood a chance against direct appeals to the audience by Morahan and Kenny (clearly relishing this D’Unbelievables touch). The double-act of Nolan and Rea that made 2009’s The Rivals such a hoot is firing on all cylinders, with Hastings forcing Marlow to conduct an interview with Miss Hardcastle a joy to behold; ending with a despairing Marlow dispensing with cups to slurp, arms out-stretched, directly from the punch bowl.

Morahan fares well in such an approach, presiding over the terrified servants who Kenny has attempted to instruct in the art of appearing genteel; so that Diggory (Sean Murphy) holds his hands stiff at all times, while Bryan Quinn literally throws himself around the stage in the service of his master. Lisa Fox and Charlotte McCurry also stand out musically and comedically in the ensemble who double as the denizens of Lumpkin’s local The Three Pigeons and the servants of his house. O’Dwyer’s imperious matriarch is as pompously dragonish as her Mrs Malaprop in 2009, with Pearse an effective foil. Liam Doona’s set design deserves a special mention for its ingenious rendering of inn and house as identical save for a sign lowered from the ceiling instead of a chandelier, with glass windows letting us glimpse characters pursue each other behind the set, while that garden comes to vivid life via a trapdoor pond and some trees lowered from above.

The period music by Conor Linehan which culminates in a joyous song and dance finale renders Goldsmith unexpectedly Shakespearean and fitting for the season.

3.5/5

She Stoops to Conquer continues its run at the Abbey until the 31st of January.

January 7, 2015

Digital Biscuit 2015

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The Screen Directors Guild of Ireland today announced the full line-up for the third annual Digital Biscuit, which will feature a talk by writer/producer David Chase: creator of The Sopranos.

Inspired by William Wellman’s 1931 James Cagney classic The Public Enemy and his own early years in New Jersey (which he’d previously touched on in The Rockford Files), Chase created the HBO series The Sopranos, the most financially successful series in the history of cable television. Chase will join Digital Biscuit as headline speaker to discuss his career as a director, writer and producer par excellence. Speaking about his forthcoming visit, David Chase said: “I’m delighted to come to Ireland, a place of great storytelling tradition, and look forward to exploring the future of stories at Digital Biscuit.” Chase joins Michel Gondry; director, screenwriter and producer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Bruno Delbonnel; cinematographer for Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Big Eyes; and Franklin Leonard; Film Executive and founder of screenwriting event The Black List; in this year’s line up of Digital Biscuit speakers.

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Digital Biscuit is an international film and technology forum that aims to foster innovation and collaboration in film and television production, and will take over Dublin’s Science Gallery from 28th–30th of January. Speaking about Digital Biscuit, SDGI director, Birch Hamilton said “Making a movie is one of the biggest creative collaborations between people that exists today. To truly be creative is to make connections with the people and world around us. With Digital Biscuit we are trying to enable the Irish film industry to improve its global position as a centre of creative and technological excellence. It is our hope that through Digital Biscuit groundbreaking new works will be made and new relationships formed between people in different disciplines. We are fortunate to have a global Brain Trust of leading experts in film, technology, finance, games, augmented reality, animation, software and hardware that have guided us in what I think is a really exciting line up for 2015.” That Brain Trust, entertainment industry leaders who act as ambassadors for Digital Biscuit, includes Damini Kumar (European Ambassador for Creativity & Innovation), Marie Schmidt Olesen (Commissioning Editor, New Danish Screen), and Nick Meaney (CEO at Epagogix).

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Guests at the Digital Biscuit launch today included Emmy and BAFTA award-winning director, Dearbhla Walsh (Roald Dahl’s Esio Trott), and Mads Damsbo and Lasse Andersen; who brought their innovative virtual reality experience The Doghouse from Denmark for a sneak preview ahead of its Irish Premiere at Digital Biscuit later this month. The launch also featured the latest Hexicam Aerials drone camera. Combining robots, remote control, and HD video, it is an extraordinary new piece of technology, which shoots in full HD whilst in flight. The three-day event will kick off with a special screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s psychedelic surf noir Inherent Vice at the IFI (28 Jan, 8pm). Digital Biscuit is delighted to present the Irish Premiere of Is the Man who is Tall Happy?; an animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, directed by Michel Gondry (29 Jan, 6.30pm, IFI). Digital Biscuit will present a bigger than ever Kino Play programme of events and live demonstrations, including first-person virtual reality film for Oculus Rift –  The Doghouse, a self taping booth from Bow Street, and an Irish Film Board and Oxford University collaboration on a multi-sensory film and food experiment; led by Charles Spence,experimental psychology scientist at Oxford University.

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One of the most exciting events at Digital Biscuit will be 20 minute first-person virtual reality film installation for Oculus virtual reality headset, The Doghouse. The project uses this gaming technology to allow one story to be told from five different points of view at the same time. Sitting around a dinner table set for five people, you get a view inside the character, via a virtual reality headset, to see and hear what the actor experiences, sees and hears. The film was originally seen in 2014 at the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre as part of FOKUS video art festival. Digital Biscuit will be the first time that the film is shown in Ireland and its second European outing. Birch Hamilton said “We’re particularly thrilled to present this preview of The Doghouse, which until now has only been seen in Denmark and Switzerland. It’s like an advanced role playing game, and is an exciting development in the future of the moving image and technology.” The multi point-of-view film installation will be accessible at points over the three-day event. Producer Mads Damsbo and director Johan Knattrup will give talks about the project. The Science Gallery exhibition spaces will play host to many such demos of the latest must-have technology for the film and moving image industry.

For more information on the full programme and to book, visit www.digitalbiscuit.ie

Digital Biscuit | Speakers |

Writer, director and producer David Chase (The Sopranos); Writer, director and producer Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Big Eyes); Writer, director and novelist Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Borgias); Genevieve Dexter (IP financing expert and founder of Serious Lunch); Lizzie Gillett (Producer of climate change blockbuster, The Age Of Stupid); Franklin Leonard (Film Executive and founder of The Black List); Triona Campbell (Director of beActive Entertainment); Bobby Boermans (Creative Director of 2C Films); Sophia Stuart (Digital strategist, director and writer); Mads Damsbo & Johan Knattrup Jenson (Producer and Director of The Dog House – 20min virtual reality multi point-of-view film installation for Oculus Rift); Harry McCann (Founder of the Digital Youth Council); Prof. Charles Spence (Head of Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Oxford University); Mike Cockayne (Director, Writer & Producer of The Hardy Bucks); Dr Brian Vaughan (Lecturer in Digital Media, DIT); Shimmy Marcus (Creative director, Bow Street); Eibhlin Curley (Assistant Head of Enterprise, Local Enterprise Office Dublin); Casting director Maureen Hughes (The Butcher Boy, Love / Hate); Director and animator Anitti Haikala (Niko & The Way To The Stars, Little Brother, Big Trouble); VFX artist Glen Southern (Penny Dreadful); Cinematographer Owen McPolin (Penny Dreadful, Da Vinci’s Demons); VFX supervisor and producer Thomas Horton (Da Vinci’s Demons, The King’s Speech); Supervising visual colourist Peter Doyle (Edge Of Tomorrow, Big Eyes, Inside Llewyn Davis); Vocal coach Gerry Grennell (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Heart of The Sea, Thor: The Dark World). John Maguire (Film Critic, Sunday Business Post); Gavin Burke (Film Critic, Entertainment.ie); Karlin Lillington (Technology Journalist, The Irish Times); Andrew Kavanagh (CEO & Founder, Kavaleer Productions); Damini Kumar, (European Ambassador for Creativity & Innovation); Production designer Tom Conroy (Legend, The Vikings, The Tudors); Previsualisation Vincent Aupetit (Gravity, Thor: The Dark World); Donald Clarke (Chief Film Correspondent, The Irish Times); Tara Brady (Film Critic, The Irish Times).

Find out more at http://www.digitalbiscuit.ie/#!speakers/cee5

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