Month: November 2015

W/ Bob and David Review

images.jpgW/ Bob and David is Netfix’s new sketch show which reunites Bob Odenkirk and David Cross of Mr. Show fame. Although it only consists of four half-hour long episodes, as well as an hour long documentary on the making of the program, the show does not feel slight in anyway. W/ Bob and David manages to pack so many memorable gags into each of these episodes. The show feels a lot more consistent than other sketch comedy such as Little Britain or more recently Key & Peele, perhaps due to fact that sketches often bleed into each other. For instance, one sketch ends with people in an office going to a bar and the next sketch is set in the bar in which they go to. Also, each episode has a framing device in which every sketch neatly fits into. As a result, the show feels focused but the fact that it is shot in front of a live audience adds an edge and looseness to the proceedings.

The gags themselves are very topical but are handled in a fresh and interesting way, perhaps most evident by the “Muslim’s Running Hollywood” sketch. Other highlights include “Heaven is Totes for Realz” in which a young boy writes a book about his experiences in heaven with Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer. Often the show favours creating an atmosphere above jokes as evident by the hilariously oppressive ambiance of the Glengarry Glen Ross spoof. The writing is at times quite meta, due to the way in which Odenkirk and Cross reference their own careers and previous shows. “Are you making any more Breaking Bads”, a devoted fan asks Odenkirk at one point. The show features a great guest cast, with Paul F. Tompkins and Jay Johnson stealing every scene in which they appear. Also the documentary, directed by Lance Bangs, is worth watching as it provides an eye-opening view into how comedians write jokes and create humorous scenarios.

Verdict 3.5/4

Vital viewing for devoted fans of humour, the intelligent W/ Bob and David reminds one why comedy, if done right, should be respected.

Dheepan Review

Dheepan-poster.jpgDheepan, the 2015 Palme D’or winner, displays the very best of auteur Jacques Audiard’s ability. He manages to expertly blend realistic, human characters and their struggles with elements of gritty crime, in a way which creates genre movies with real heart and soul. He did this with Read My Lips, in which a male ex-con and a deaf female secretary form an intimate bond, The Beat that My Heart Skipped revolved around a man torn by his criminal life and his dream of becoming a concert pianist and now Dheepan, which centers upon Sri Lankan refugees who emigrate to France but are situated by the authorities into an area where crime runs rampant.

Dheepan takes its time to develop and mutates over the course of its running time. Its opening feels extremely realistic as the central character, Sivadhassan, is coerced not only into taking the name of a man who has been killed, the titular Dheepan, but also a new family in order to escape the violence of his country. Throughout the film, these characters are forced to pretend that they are a close-knit family unit in order to fool the French authorities, despite the fact they are strangers. There are moments of sadness as the young girl, Illayaal, has to ask her fake mother, Yalini, to kiss her before she goes to school because “that’s what the other mothers do”. However, despite the fact that there is a definite bleakness, at times, to the drama, Audiard and his fellow scriptwriters manage to inject some moments of humour and warmth. Yalini earns a living as a housekeeper for a man under house-arrest. She asks, in broken French, whether is ankle bracelet “is for running”, to which he replies “no, it’s so I don’t run away”.

As the film progresses, it develops unexpectedly into an almost Straw Dogs-esque type of story in which one is forced to protect their territory by any means necessary. Dheepan is expertly crafted so when these moments of extremely well-orchestrated terror do arrive, they truly jolt a reaction in the viewer. Despite being shot on a relatively low-budget, the action scenes are tense, gripping and stylish, with the finale ranking as one of the most electrifying action sequences of the year. In fact, there are stylish moments running all through the movie, perhaps as a counterbalance to the almost documentary like realism early in the drama. As the title card appears on screen, we see these beautiful distant blue lights in the background. As they become closer in view we realise they are from the toys that Dheepan is forced to sell on the city streets. Never in recent memory, have I seen a cinematic moment that found so much beauty in such an ordinary occurrence. It helps that these moments are accompanied to Darkside’s Nicolas Jaar’s wonderful score which manages to infuse elements of Sri Lankan culture with his trademark lush electro-tinged beats.

Verdict: 4/4

Equally gripping as both a realistic drama on the mistreatment of refugees and as a stylish and tense crime drama. Dheepan benefits from Audiard’s delicate portrayal of his characters.

As I intended the Irish premiere of Dheepan at the IFI’s annual French Film Festival, in which director Jacques Audiard and screenwriter Noe Debre were in attendance, I thought I’d share a few details that were revealed about the film and its fruition.

  • Dheepan was not meant to be the title for the film. By the time the movie was to be submitted for Cannes, the screenwriters and Audiard did not have a title. They chose Dheepan because it was the lead characters name but intended at some point to change it. However, when the film won the Palme D’or, Audiard and Debre stated it was “fantastic advertising” and decided to keep the name. He said he finds the title problematic because the Dheepan character is far more of an enigma than Yalini’s. He confirmed that if he could change the name, he would call it “Dheepan and Yalini”.
  • The film’s idea originated from Audiard’s plan to remake Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs in contemporary France. However, as the screenwriters went through various drafts of the script it mutated further and further away from the premise of Straw Dogs, with much more emphasis being placed upon the notion of integrating into a new society. However, the bones of Peckinpah’s film are still present in Dheepan, especially within the final act.
  • The film’s script was written long before the current refugee crisis, to which Audiard stated “life was imitating art”.
  • Without spoilers, the interviewer at the event summed up the finale beautifully: “You see so little, you feel so much, it feels so personal”.


American Ultra Review

originalAmerican Ultra is part of the wave of original summer blockbusters in 2015 that failed to make a profit. By “original”, I mean films such as Jupiter Ascending and Tomorrowland which were not part of an existing franchise and were created by talented writers and directors with the goal of delivering something fresh to cinema audiences (I personally had never seen a 12a film in which a subplot involved its lead protagonist selling her eggs to buy a telescope before Jupiter Ascending). While these films may have been of varying quality, they should have at least been praised for building new, interesting worlds. However, this was not the case. American Ultra received mixed reviews and made a reported $15 million on a $22 million budget. Due to its incoming DVD release, I decided to watch the film and I am pleased to report that the film is a piece of solid entertainment, elevated by an entertaining script from Chronicle’s Max Landis and strong performances.

The film centres on Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg), a stoner who lives in the sleepy town of Liman, West Virginia, where he works as a convenience store clerk, and is planning to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart in an extremely charming role). Little does he know that he was once the only survivor of Connie Britton’s CIA agent’s MK Ultra program and is targeted to be terminated by her rival, played by a scene-chewing Topher Grace.

The film is very funny at times and Max Landis’ script pushes its central conceit just about as far as he can before it could become tedious. It features of some genuinely surprising twists and although many of the best jokes are in the trailer, there are some gem lines amongst the carnage and brutality (the film certainly keeps the bullets flying and the blood pouring from open wounds). The wittiest lines are often just strange character moments such as Mike’s description of his gun-toting drug dealer Rose (John Leguiziamo) as “a sensitive and complex man” or Rose’s disappointment at not being invited to take part in Mike and his friend’s fantasy-football league.

Screenshot 2015-11-16 22.57.16.png

Although the film during action sequences tends to drop the comedy which leads to a slight tonal imbalance, Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) delivers some very stylish direction, especially its final fight scene in a supermarket in which the camera dizzyingly moves through, beside and over the various aisles, all in one take. The film also utilises the “Edgar Wright school of comedy” in which items are constantly emerging suddenly into the frame for maximum comedic effect (as evident in the photo above).


From Left to Right: Walton Goggins, Kristen Stewart and Topher Grace

The performances are fun and breezy all around. Jesse Eisenberg, although  a troubled young adult is not exactly a stretch for the actor, is certainly engaging in the role and seems competent during action scenes. Kristen Stewart appears to be entering a career renaissance worthy of Matthew McConaughey as she continues to deliver great performances (most recently in Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria). She adds real heart to the role and Eisenberg and her share good chemistry as evident by Adventureland a few years ago. Topher Grace is terrific in his slimy, villainous role. He reminded me of a less subtle but more humorous variation on Andrew Scott’s “C” character in the recent Bond outing Spectre. Tarantino regular Walton Goggins’ role as crazed operative, Laughter, sent to kill Mike has moments of surprising sympathy which separates it from most films of this ilk. In a lesser movie he would have been portrayed as a two dimensional psychopath – a credit to Landis’ script and Goggins’ performance.

Verdict: 3/4

American Ultra is a fun, perhaps future cult film, featuring a refreshingly different screenplay by Max Landis, impressive action and a talented cast.

Mississippi Grind Review

11191821_oriMississippi Grind, an homage to Robert Altman’s California Split, is unlike most films based around gambling in recent memory. Earlier in the year we had the Jason Statham starring Wild Card (which was actually quite good) and the Mark Wahlberg vanity piece The Gambler. The protagonists in these films were addicts but they were depicted as almost brave for being able to risk everything on one hand of poker or a game of 21. These men wore exquisite suits and looked cool and their club and casino settings were golden, luxurious and glamorous. Mississippi Grind is a lot more realistic. The characters who inhabit our protagonist Gerry’s (the great Ben Mendelsohn) world are downtrodden and desperate. Not in an overwrought way but in the sense that they spend time in run down and dimly lit community centres in order to gamble away their money because that’s what they need to do to get a fix. Gerry has no interest in his job as a real estate agent (he steals money from the petty cash account to fuel his habit). Even right after he gets stabbed all he can think about is how he can fund his next bet.

By chance, Gerry is introduced at a card game to the smooth-talking, kind and mysterious Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) – an affluent man who can potentially fund Gerry’s addiction. Curtis does not like poker, he prefers to bet on people it seems. The two bond over a rainbow (which is the cutest scene ever) and after two nights of non-stop bromance – they decide to road trip to the South with the hope of earning enough money on the way to enter a high-stakes poker game with a 25,000 dollar buy in.

Reynolds (left) Mendolsohn (Right)

Reynolds (left) Mendolsohn (Right)

The film employs a lot of long takes which enable the cast to converse naturally for long periods at a time. Mendelsohn and Reynolds have terrific chemistry and the scenes they share range from laugh out loud funny (Gerry calling Curtis his “lucky leprechaun” because he appeared after a rainbow) to deeply melancholic. Mendelsohn, an actor who is so often type cast as vicious psychopaths (Animal Kingdom, Black Sea, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Lost River, Starred Up), gives a beautifully nuanced performance as a vulnerable man struggling to hold onto a hope that everything will get better in his life. His role here has shades of his sympathetic part as Danny Rayburn in Bloodline (for which he was Emmy-nominated), but without the menace. Reynolds is equally excellent in his role in which he appears to be channelling a young Paul Newman. His gift for delivering large amounts of dialogue at a time is utilised well here because it hides his character’s underlying sadness. He’s an enigma but there are moments in which he loses his cheery disposition and we get a glimpse into his personal life, both romantic and family, and one feels as if he was to ever stop talking, he may not be okay.

The film is very unpredictable and takes detours one would not expect. It sets up, through its description of the road-trip, where the characters will go and where they will end but then disregards it, becoming a far more personal and touching drama than expected a la Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank. The cinematography is beautiful, particularly as they venture further into the Southern states and its subtle ending, which at first struck me as not wholly satisfying but on reflection, made perfect sense for its characters.

Verdict 3.5/4

As its poster states, Mississippi Grind is a great American movie and harks back to the new-American films of the 70’s centered around interesting characters and naturalistic dialogue.

Spectre Review

CN_YqmzWEAEExOx.jpg-largeSpectre has a spectacular introductory sequence. A masked man and a woman walk through Mexico City during Dia de Muertos. The whole sequence is presented as an unbroken tracking shot, similar to possibly the best opening in cinema history, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. The man and women enter a hotel, then a lift, then a room where the man takes off his mask to reveal that he is in fact 007 (Daniel Craig). The reason he has seduced the woman was to allow him entry into the hotel. He wants access to the roof of a neighbouring building to assassinate a target. Bond exits through the window and moves with elegance as he, speedily but with great suave, walks on ledges and down steps with no railings to his chosen destination. Suddenly the film erupts into action as a bomb blows up the area and Bond is forced to escape and track down his target through the city streets. The sequence builds and builds and then culminates in a thrilling fight scene, which takes place within a helicopter flying dangerously over the vastly populated city streets due to the festival.

Not only is the setting within the Day of Dead festival excellent in terms of striking visuals, it foregrounds the themes of the film – the supposedly dead lurking within the shadows (Christoph Waltz’s mysterious villain apparently died in a mountain climbing accident as a boy), the dead reappearing (Judi Dench’s M leaves a video for Bond which sets in motion the plot of the film) and the walking dead (Mr. White dying from Thallium poisoning). The film begins with a caption stating ‘the dead are alive’ and this motif is also present during the opening credits as we see images of those that died previously in the franchise such as Vesper Lynd, Raoul Silva and Le Chiffre. There is also an emphasis on tentacles, highlighting the sneaking grasp that the villainous organisation ‘Spectre’ has upon all that oppose it such as Bond. Sam Smith’s divisive theme song (which I personally wasn’t a big fan of) is incorporated beautifully into the sequence. Smith’s high pitched warbling sounds much better accompanied to the increasingly melodramatic and bombastic imagery appearing onscreen.

Grabs-from-the-new-trailer-for-latest-James-Bond-film-called-SpectreHowever, the film has some major problems. Waltz’s villain, Franz Oberhausen, does not match that of Mads Mikkelsen’s La Chiffre or Javier Bardem’s Silva, which is a huge flaw considering that he has been the overall baddie throughout the series manipulating events out of sight. For a man who is the overarching link between the antagonists of the three films it is disappointing how little Waltz is given to do. That’s not to say Waltz is poor, he is as brilliant as he has been in Polanski or Tarantino’s recent films. He exudes an effortlessly creeping menace as he delivers lines such as “It was me James. The author of all your pain”. However due to the structure of the script, he is only given one scene to properly trade barbs with Bond and he is never given the time to properly chew the scenery as Javier Bardem did in Skyfall. A friend jokingly after the screening asked me if I had wanted ‘Big Eyes Waltz’, a reference to the insane courtroom scene in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, and on reflection I think that’s what Spectre needed. Without spoiling, his motives for his actions are never fully explored and the brief sliver of information we do receive doesn’t really make much logical sense.


Monica Bellucci’s promo for the film

Also Monica Bellucci is completely wasted in a thankless role, playing the wife of a man Bond has just murdered. He visits her in Rome to interrogate her for information and then in the process seduces and beds her (textbook Bond, which I have no problem with). However, that’s her only function within the drama. Bellucci does possess an elegant, timeless beauty which suits the new art-house aesthetic of the franchise since Casino Royale. However even Gemma Arterton, who is murdered fairly early on in Quantum of Solace, was given more to do than Bellucci, who has proven in past films such as Irreversible that she is an extremely versatile actress. It also doesn’t help that Spectre has arrived late in a year filled with spy films. As Bond races through the side streets of a European city, one can’t help but be reminded of a similar but better performed sequence in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It doesn’t help that there is a strain of humour within the sequence in Spectre which feels slightly forced as opposed to the sparkling witty dialogue of Ritchie’s film.


Andrew Scott as C

Spectre still has some great moments. Dave Bautista’s evil henchman, Mr Hinx, has a bone crunching fight with Bond aboard a moving train which is very well choreographed and performed by the two actors. Jesper Christensen manages as Mr. White to be both menacing, enigmatic and sympathetic in a scene which is played twice in the film because it was that great. The theme of spying through surveillance (personified by Andrew Scott’s superbly smackable Max Denbigh or ‘C’) versus the old school approach of placing an actual living spy in the field (represented by Bond and Ralph Fiennes’ M) is an interesting one to integrate into 007’s world. The scenes in which C and M face off against each other are the sharpest and most concisely written scenes within Spectre, and often the most funny. Ben Whishaw’s Q (who is given more screen time here than in Skyfall) manages against all odds to fit quite well into the world of Spectre, even once you realise his character is basically a more suave but equally awkward Maurice Moss from The I.T Crowd. Lea Seydoux should also be held in high regard for managing to be a three-dimensional character with intelligence and real emotion despite being a Bond girl.

Verdict 2.5/4

Spectre begins strong but loses momentum once its villain is revealed (which is surprising considering that was the point in which Skyfall revved into gear). It does provide a clean and perfunctory end to this Bond’s story, but one can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed as the final act does not top that of Casino Royale or Skyfall.

Youth Review

imagesYouth is Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s seventh film and is again indicative of how few living directors can top him in terms of his dazzling skills behind the camera. Of course there are people like Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson who are clearly technically gifted but there is something unique about Sorrentino. Through his elegant but often swooping camera movements, strange unique framing and at times, quirky choice of clear and precise visuals, he is the closest Italian cinema has come to producing someone who could be compared with Federico Fellini.

Youth, like much of Fellini’s output, is centred upon vignettes – all linked in this case by the setting of a luxury resort in the French Alps. The broad plot outline revolves around elderly musician Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and his equally old director friend, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). When Mick’s son abandons his wife, Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), for singer Paloma Faith (playing herself strangely but excellently), it causes these characters to re-evaluate their lives. Also in the hotel is disgruntled Hollywood actor Jimmy Tree (an against type Paul Dano) and the legendary but now obese retired footballer Diego Maradona (Sorrentino being Neapolitan, thanked Maradona during his Oscar acceptance speech for The Great Beauty in 2014).

Caine (left), Keitel (right)

Caine (left), Keitel (right)

Sorrentino’s scripts are often dense and complex and Youth is no exception. It is very funny at times, but there is a darkness lurking underneath the humour. The film appears, at first, to be dealing with the topic of old age, which would be no surprise since the director’s previous works The Family Friend, The Consequences of Love, Il Divo and The Great Beauty were all centred upon elderly protagonists. In a poignant and tender moment Keitel’s director asks one of his young screenwriters to view her friends through the wrong end of a telescope after showing her a far-off mountain through the right one. “Being young makes everything close,” he says. “Being old makes everything far away”. There are moments of quiet terror as Mick’s realises that there are large portions of his own life that he can simply no longer remember. There’s a scene in which Mick and Fred can’t help but stare at Miss Universes’ naked body in a swimming pool, not in lecherous manner, but in an envious way due to her vitality.

Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz

However, after processing the film in my mind for days after viewing, I believe Youth is about life in general. The characters who live in their memories and cannot help but focus on the past do not engage with the present. Fred’s remorse for his wife and memories of a better time trap him in the past. Mick’s goal to create a film which will be seen as his ‘testament’ is failing because as his leading lady bluntly states (Jane Fonda – whose character appears to have been inspired by Jessica Lange): “you don’t know how to see the world anymore”. Paul Dano’s character is angered by fans recognising him from a film he appeared in which he does not deem high art. The characters who are the most engaged with the present such as Fonda’s aging diva, “television is the future, in fact it’s actually the present” she argues to Mick, or Paloma Faith’s character, are the one’s who seem the most at ease with their life.

Screenshot 2015-10-29 21.48.30The cast is universally terrific. Rachel Weisz delivers a straight to camera monologue, similar to Marion Cottilard in Macbeth and Elizabeth Moss in Queen of Earth recently, which although is pure plot exposition, manages to be captivating and compelling. Michael Caine’s downtrodden, glum portrayal of a man questioning his life’s work is not unlike Toni Servillo’s leading roles in Sorrentino’s previous films. However, Caine adds a certain ‘distant fatherly charm’, as Peter Bradshaw notes in his Guardian review, and feels slightly more relatable to the everyman than Servillo was. Harvey Keitel, an actor who has not been offered a role worthy of his immense talent since the 90s, is both hilariously direct, delivering lines such as “Lena is a beautiful woman and this one here (Paloma Faith) is the most insignificant woman on the face of the planet”, but also heart-breaking as he realises that his final ‘testament’ may never come into fruition. The cinematography by Luca Bigazzi is gorgeous. The film’s setting, although very similar to the earlier in the year Clouds of Sils Maria, is utilised completely differently. While the mountain ranges of Sils Maria engulfed the characters in a very claustrophobic way, here they express freedom through the recurrent motif of floating – whether it be the elderly levitating monk who lives on the hotel grounds or Lena, at her most happy, being suspended from the rock-cliffs mountain climbing.

Verdict 3.5/4

Youth is deep and complex, but also dazzling and elegant. It is tinged with both humour and sadness and benefits from winning performances and a masterly direction.