Talking Movies

April 10, 2015

John Wick

 

Keanu Reeves is John Wick, a retired hit-man who finds himself drawn into conflict with his former employer after a senseless act of random violence.

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Wick is grieving for the death of his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan), the woman for whom he turned his back on his lethal profession. After the funeral he receives an unexpected final gift from Helen, an adorable puppy to keep him company in their spacious New Jersey home. And Wick keeps his grief together; until a random encounter with Iosef (Alfie Allen) leads to the theft of his beloved 68 Mustang and the murder of his dog. Iosef has no idea why his father, Russian mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), is so upset about his extracurricular activities, until he’s told that Wick used to be Viggo’s go-to assassin… After a botched attempt to resolve things Wick arrives in NYC, checking in at hit-man central, The Continental, to prepare to exact vengeance. And before you can say RAMPAGE! things escalate.

Don’t call it a comeback! Okay, maybe call it a comeback. 47 Ronin wasn’t truly released, it escaped, so this is the first Keanu movie to properly hit Irish screens since The Private Lives of Pippa Lee in 2009, and it puts him really properly back in the game. Reuniting with his Matrix stunt team was an inspired move, as co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch make a terrific debut with this lean, mean action flick. Their DP Jonathan Sela has made terrible films look glossy so it must be a relief to lend a washed-out colour palette and slick visuals to a good film, while writer Derek Kolstad ups his game substantially from his resume of Dolph Lundgren vehicles. There’s even a redemptive cameo from Matrix Reloaded watchmaker Randall Duk Kim as a doctor patching up wounded John Wick.

And as well as Kim, Reloaded agent Daniel Bernhardt appears, and finally gets to fight Neo; although neither of their two punishing clashes reaches the brutal heights of his Parker tangle with the State. Kim is the in-house doctor of the Continental, where Lance Reddick is the attentive concierge and Ian McShane the civilised owner. The Continental is straight out of The Man from UNCLE, like many moments in this movie (such as Thomas Sadoski’s cameo) where delirious silliness is played perfectly straight. These hit-men, from Marcus (Willem Dafoe), to Harry (Clarke Peters), to Ms Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), are all remarkably civilised; Wick in particular seems universally beloved as a stand-up guy. Viggo amusingly seems to lose his mind from stress as the movie proceeds, powered by rumbling, aggressive music from Tyler Bates and (in another Matrix nod) Marilyn Manson.

John Wick is a total fantasy action flick, with self-referential nods to Keanu’s past, deliriously silly conceits, headshots as continuous as a computer game, and judo that’s a joy to watch in properly edited and framed sequences. But it’s almost shocking what a relief it is to see such competence after the likes of Captain America 2. The early scenes of Wick grieving are conveyed with a montage of telling images. Staggeringly this seems super-cinematic, like some rediscovery of Eisenstein, because we’ve reached a nadir of clunky-as-you-like-it exposition. The shot of Wick with sympathisers in his house after the funeral, followed by a shot of how he’s alone in the house after they leave, is a perfect communication in a few seconds of a lived reality that many films these days would agonise over with three pages of redundant dialogue.

It would be churlish not to award John Wick 5 stars if Birdman received 5; because, while Birdman has a flaw (in the shape of Lindsay Duncan’s caricatured critic) that does not matter, there are no flaws in the execution of John Wick’s ambitions.

5/5

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January 7, 2015

Digital Biscuit 2015

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.

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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

May 18, 2011

Win Win

Tom McCarthy’s third film as writer/director, after The Station Agent and The Visitor, is another understated little gem.

Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small town lawyer in New Providence, New Jersey, whose legal practice is struggling almost as much as the abysmal high-school wrestling team he coaches. In dire need of money he spots an unethical opportunity to get $1,500 a month simply by acting as guardian for an elderly client with early dementia whose estranged daughter cannot be located. His plans are complicated, however, by the unexpected arrival of the man’s taciturn grandson Kyle. The boy is quickly adopted by the Flaherty family and, as he becomes more outgoing, his unsuspected prowess at wrestling sees him rapidly become the star of Flaherty’s high-school team. This win-win scenario is threatened by the sudden appearance of Kyle’s unstable mother (Melanie Lynskey) who may unravel everyone’s happiness by exposing the original deceit regarding Leo’s guardianship that Mike has engaged in…

It would be ridiculous to label McCarthy a cinematic American Chekhov, but it is accurate to say that his films sometimes feel like the best modern American short stories come to life. He has a regard for mundane details, defeated characters, and everyday struggles, and treats them with a humane sympathy and an eye for comic absurdity that makes them truly engaging. Giamatti is as wonderful as ever as a good man who has done one bad thing out of desperation but has parlayed it into a number of good things, all of which are now in peril because of his original sin. Amy Ryan is fantastic as Mike’s wife Jackie, a loving mother; whose violent verbal reproaches of Kyle’s mother Cindy belie an all encompassing compassion; counterpointed by Lynskey’s tremendously ambiguous turn as the unreliable Cindy. Jeffrey Tambor meanwhile has some wonderful moments as Mike’s assistant coach and fellow struggling lawyer who advocates ignoring their clanging office boiler until it explodes rather than pay for repairs.

This realistic portrait of an America in recession, where the villains are faceless systems of bureaucracy and a tanking economy, is rarely seen in pop culture, but McCarthy also has a talent for achieving redemptive moments without straying into bombast. There are numerous such moments here, from a guitar led montage of small victories in life, and the effect Kyle has on the worst member of the team Stemler, to the developing bond between Kyle and Mike, and the initiation into selfless responsibility of Mike’s roguish friend Tommy – enthusiastically played by Bobby Cannavale (TV’s Cupid himself). Indeed the ‘victory’ of Stemler despite Tommy’s doubts encapsulates McCarthy’s message, winning by ignoring your own morality just isn’t satisfying.

Win Win isn’t quite as good a film as the more revelatory The Visitor, but you never know where a Tom McCarthy film is going, and these days that’s most praiseworthy.

3.5/5

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