Talking Movies

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.

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July 22, 2014

Dublin Theatre Festival: 10 Plays

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Hamlet 25th – 27th September Grand Canal Theatre

You haven’t appreciated Shakespeare until you’ve heard him in the original German. Ahem. Berlin’s Schaubuhne theatre troupe returns under the direction of Thomas Ostermeier for an acclaimed production of the Bard’s magnum opus. 6 actors play 20 roles in a production characterised by a spectacular stage covered in loose earth, turning to mud as actors hose it, and film each other for projection.

 

Zoo 25th – 28th September Smock Alley

Teatro de Chile present a one-hour lecture, of sorts. Two scientists inform you of their astonishing discovery, the last two Tzoolkman people; and then bend their brains trying to figure out how to preserve a culture whose central feature is imitation. So far, so Monty Python, but this is intended to be a serious problematisation of the idea of academic ‘performance’ in serious lecturing.

 

The Mariner 25th September – October 11th Gate

Hugo Hamilton appears to be the Gate’s go-to guy for the theatre festival. Following an adaptation of his Speckled People memoir he unveils an original script about an Irish sailor traumatised by the Battle of Jutland whose mute state inspires very different reactions from his wife and his mother. Patrick Mason directs, but how much insight can novelist Hamilton deliver in 90 minutes?

 

After Sarah Miles 26th September – October 11th Axis/Civic/Pavilion/Draiocht

Don Wycherley’s received nothing but rave reviews for his solo performance as fisherman Bobeen in Michael Hilliard Mulcahy’s new play about a fisherman remembering his life from teenage days in 1969 to the present. As the touring element of this festival Wycherley will appear in four venues as the fisherman who worked as an extra on the filming of epic Ryan’s Daughter.

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Our Few and Evil Days 26th September – October 11th Abbey

Mark O’Rowe takes on directing duties for his first original play in some years and he has assembled a stunning cast for it: Charlie Murphy, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Sinead Cusack, and Ian Lloyd Anderson. We’re promised that a devoted daughter will find out a shocking secret about her parents from a menacing stranger. Violence and poetically abrasive language ensues…

 

Ganesh Versus The Third Reich 1st – 4th October Belvedere

The most ambitious of the three Australian plays at the festival sees the Hindu God Ganesh embark on a journey to reclaim the Swastika from the Nazis, only for things to lurch away from fantastical epic into behind the scenes bickering; as an overbearing director fights with his cast over their right to use the most sacred elements of other cultures.

 

DruidMurphy 1st – 5th October Olympia

DruidMurphy’s trilogy of plays was a highlight of the 2012 Festival, and Garry Hynes returns for a second helping with Marie Mullen and Marty Rea still in tow. Not only will Tom Murphy’s 1985 classic of a dying matriarch, Bailegangaire, be revived, but Murphy has also written a new play Brigit which acts as a prequel by filling in the back-story of matriarch Mommo’s husband.

 

Spinning 1st – 12th October Smock Alley

Fishamble presents the great Karl Shiels in a new play by Halcyon Days playwright Deirdre Kinihan. He plays a man trying to hold onto a life coming apart at the seams, who unexpectedly meets a woman coming to terms with the senseless murder of her daughter. With a cast that includes Caitriona Ennis and Janet Moran this looks set to be an absorbing production.

 

Jack Charles V The Crown 8th – 12th October Samuel Beckett

I can’t help but think of this Australian one-man show as being an eccentric kin to Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. Jack Charles was part of the Stolen Generation, and then became part of Koori theatre in the 1970s and a film actor; having been a cat-burglar, heroin addict, and convict in the meantime. He performs his life-story with unrepentant brio.

 

Book Burning 8th – 11th October Project

Belgium story-teller Pieter De Buysser tells the story of Sebastian, a man he met at an Occupy demonstration. Sebastian had become embroiled in a WikiLeaks scandal; and from there De Buysser, and his visual artist Hans Op De Beeck, spin out the implications of one man’s struggles to make Sebastian’s story a synecdoche for a new mode of being in the impersonal globalised world.

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.

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