Here’s a rundown of what we saw in the last (two) months with whoever reviews it getting the right to bestow a star rating, (NW or PMcG). We didn’t get to do this in December so there’s a few extra ones in place too. Take a listen to the latest podcast for some more thoughts on more these…
Inarritu is a master with the camera and has a superb eye for a scene, there are at least five shots in the film that make you pause and reveal in their beautiful simplicity. Fire is his best friend when it comes to lighting and allowing the camera lens to fog and dirty brings another dimension of reality to the adventure making us feel like we’re right there beside our protagonist.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
One of the biggest delights from the film is the emergence of Rey as the future of the saga. She’s a strong, confident female character who needs no help from a male side-kick to do her thing. This is in keeping with the fiercely independent Leia of Episodes IV and V and the resourceful mother Padmé showcased in Episode II (though there’s a definite mission to erase the memory of those latter-day films here). There’s great work put in to her development and journey as she becomes the primary proponent of our film’s title. BB8 (with voice-consultant Bill Hader!) may have been the break-out star of the film’s pre-release marketing but it’s all about Rey from here on in.
Steeped in the mythology and legacy of Rocky so much so you can almost hear Mickey shouting in your ear and taste the blood, sweat and tears.
What a pleasant surprise to see in cinemas before Christmas. A feisty Grandma by the name of Elle (Lily Tomlin) offering support for her grand-daughter (Julia Garner) as she tries to get the money together for an abortion without her mother Marcia Gay Harden finding out. Along the way we get an insight into the various characters who have crossed through the life of Elle, a lesbian academic whose long-time partner had recently passed away.
It’s a simple enough premise for a story and could easily have been hokey and overly-sentimental but director Paul Weitz (currently receiving plaudits for his part in the Golden Globe winning TV series “Mozart in the Jungle”) finds a perfect balance in this journey film. Also credit to all involved for the wonderfully brief 79minute run-time.
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino is back with his 2nd western and he claims that to be seen as a western director you have to do three so let’s see what film number nine will reveal. This really has driven audiences down the middle and if you just look at the star rating above you can tell I rather liked the film. It concerns The Hangman (Kurt Russell) taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to hand. They are caught in a blizzard and must wait it out at Minnie’s Haberdashery with some less than savoury characters. The stand outs are Samuel L Jackson as a confederate major turned bounty hunter and Sherriff Mannix played by Walton Goggins.
Tarantino knows his westerns and has Kurt Russell basically do a John Wayne impersonation for the whole film even saying Wayne’s immortal line from The Searchers “that’ll be the day” . At another point we have a clear representation of Calamity Jane. The film looks amazing and one wonders why it was shot on ultra Panavision 70mm when the vast majority of the action takes pace inside the cabin. Yet this adds to the interiors as well giving them great scope and depth. Lighting trickery and very close close ups make the film an intense experience and the snow falling through all the cracks of the cabin seem like magic dust constantly falling. It also isn’t as shallow as reported. As with most good westerns it’s an allegory for it’s time, here concerning American race relations. Tarantino will still divide audiences but there is no doubting he tells one hell of a yarn.
Brie Larson deserved more praise for the brilliant Short Term 12 and brought a reality check to the other larger-than-life characters in Trainwreck last summer (she played Amy Schumer’s character’s sister). She’s really brilliant here, unafraid to give a warts-and-all performance in the room that is never showy or false, before changing tack completely and finally allowing herself to break once she’s back in the real world and Jack is safe. They just just bubble-wrap up that Oscar and send it to her now.
Some may ask why this story is being told so long after the events, believing that everything is resolved and settled. Unfortunately a heart breaking post script shows the relevance of this film. Most of the abuse seen here, which we can identify with in Ireland, took place during a climate of fear of the Catholic church and a culture of silence. It is imperative to show time and again the damage this outlook can inflict on a society.
Denmark’s Best Foreign Language Film nominee is the story of a military group in Afghanistan trying to get through their tour with the soldiers and local civilians’ safety at the top of their priority list amidst ongoing conflict with the Taliban. When they come under-fire Commander Pedersen orders an airstrike against where he believes the firing is coming from. Unfortunately ordering an airstrike without sufficient and just evidence is considered a crime, so Pedersen is pulled up in front of the courts.
Director Tobias Lindholm has form in this conflict and the bureaucracy of conflict after his 2013 film A Hijacking which looked at the slow, dangerous and draining process of a pirate takeover of a freighter. Here the film is very clearly split down the middle of the pre-arrest and post-arrest and it actually in that Afghanistan setting that the film gets a little bogged down. You’re potentially left a little bored as you wonder just where we’re going as Lindholm, working from his own script, spends a little too long setting up sufficient character dynamics to make the court scenes where soldiers are forced to testify against their commanding officer all the more effective. It’s in that second half back in Denmark that the film truly sparks in to life with the moral dilemmas of what is right in war brought to the fore.
The Big Short
The lead characters are all quite under-developed and closer to fun caricature than anything else. Combine that with the aforementioned celebrities and the preposterous sums of money being dealt with just push it into a raucous, outrageous territory that has much more in common with The Wolf of Wall Street than the likes of Margin Call or Too Big To Fail.
After so much anticipation it’s hard not to feel a little let down by Joy. David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook stands as one of my favourite films of the last ten years and while American Hustle had its problems, it still seemed to know what it wanted to be. Unfortunately the same can’t really be sad for Joy, which is at times hilarious, at times harrowing but sadly, at times, a little dull.
There’s no doubting Jennifer Lawrence’s ability as an actress, but ultimately the film never really sparks into life until she gets her big break and is allowed to showcase her beloved mop on QVC. The rather strange third act
The Danish Girl
Tom Hooper looks a little out of sorts at the 2015/16 Hollywood Reporter Directors’ round-table, and you wonder whether his previous awards heavy-hitters (The Kings Speech, Les Misérables) are held in as a high a regard amongst the Hollywood establishment as they are by the grey generation of Downton Abbey fans. Anyway his latest was an opportunity to really up his game and make a film about a very modern, topical issue – the challenges faced by a trans character. Ultimately the film kind of flunks out on this as Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Einar Wegener (transitioning to Lili Elbe) isn’t actually the heart of the film, with much more insight given to the plight of Einar’s wife Gerda. Ultimately the studio have opted to sell Redmayne as the lead and Vikander as support, but it’s really Gerda’s struggle with this change at a time when it was unheard of that will stay with you.
Sisters opened the same night as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even with the irrepressible Amy Poehler and Tina Fey doing the publicity junket rounds, it still felt like a bit of a lame duck that was dead on arrival going up against JJ Abrams’ juggernaut. The film itself is inoffensively enjoyable but won’t stay with you for long after you’ve seen it. It’s another Hollywood story of someone in their early 40s having an identity crisis wondering where it all went wrong, this time that angst is shared by sisters (the clue was in the title) played by Poehler and Fey.
Star of the show may be WWE wrestler John Cena who puts in another wonderful extended cameo appearance (after a similar gig in last year’s Trainwreck), this time playing a body-building drug-dealer who stays straight-faced throughout.
Irish critics come in for questioning regarding the reviewing of Irish films and whether or not they’re more generous with their stars. I think the same may be said of all reviewers when it comes to foreign art house films. The Assassin’s director Hsiao-Hsien Hou won the best director at Cannes last year and it was voted the best film of 2015 by popular vote from a range of critics for Sight and Sound Magazine. So with this knowledge one has to be vigilant not to go in with pre conceived notions of excellence.
The film concerns an assassin who is tasked with killing a political leader in 7th century China. For the most part all the characters are underdeveloped allowing the scenery to fill in any gaps in the story. Any character with some depth quickly becomes a two dimensional stereotype from martial arts movies. The plot is light and even lighter on dialogue or explanation. Don’t confuse this for a martial arts movie as the action is limited and comes from nowhere when it does come seeming rushed, actually sped up at times, and clunky. While the scenery for the majority is lovely to behold there is one scene of a woman playing a musical instrument that looks shot on VHS from the 80s. The emperor I fear is naked.
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