Month: February 2016

Time Out of Mind Review (ADIFF Premiere)

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Time Out of Mind, the latest by writer-director Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger), is a film that sticks with the viewer long after its final shot. It can be uncomfortable to watch in the moment due to its neo-realist approach (long takes, rambling story, and documentary style realism). However, it provides a unique insight into the lives of people typically excluded from cinema, as well as marginalised by society.

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Richard Gere and Kyra Sedgwick

The film stars Richard Gere (who has been campaigning for the film since 1988) as George, a homeless man in New York City suffering from alcoholism and lapses in memory. The film charts his experience living on the streets and in homeless shelters through a series of vignettes – his relationship with an African-American homeless man (Ben Vereen, Roots), another with a homeless woman (Kyra Sedgwick – unrecognisable), his attempts to reconnect with his daughter (Jena Malone, Donnie Darko) and his trouble to attain a birth certificate which he needs to find employment.

The film succeeds in capturing the harsh but incredibly realistic atmosphere of New York’s underbelly through Bobby Bukowski’s fly on the wall cinematography. Moverman’s stripped-back script forgoes the usual establishment of the central character’s history till very late in the film. Instead it aims to highlight the hopelessness that George and other inhabitants of the shelters face, a topic rarely explored in mainstream cinema. While some could argue that Gere is too handsome and recognisable to play a role of this sort, the actor acquits himself excellently to his, at times, stubborn character. He embodies an inner confusion, desperation and sadness, most evidently in the film’s closing scene.

The inclusion of some major actors in very minor roles (Steve Buscemi and Michael Kenneth Williams) can be distracting as they are given nothing to do and jar with the cinema-verite aesthetic. However they may have helped the film attract investors (a la Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave) and it is only a minor flaw as the film ultimately achieves its goal of portraying people affected by a polemical issue.

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Gere at the film’s Dublin premiere

Verdict 3/4

Tough and uncompromising viewing – by focusing on the lives of the homeless in such a neo-realist fashion, Gere and Moverman have created perhaps the best film centered round homelessness in recent memory. As Gere said himself (at the film’s ADIFF Q&A after the screening), the movie will make one think differently about the people they so often see on the street.

 

 

Triple 9 Review

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Kate Winslet

Triple 9, the latest from Australian auteur John Hillcoat (Lawless, The Road, The Proposition) is a remarkably tense affair which reinvigorates both the neo-noir and the heist genre. The plot features a gang of thieves led by Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing against type), who are being blackmailed by the leader of the Russian-Jewish mafia, Irina (Kate Winslet), into committing a dangerous heist. The other members of Michael’s crew, brothers Gabe and Russell (Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus), Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.) are either corrupt cops or former cops which gives them an upper hand into committing their thefts successfully. When the group decides collectively that the heist must be committed in broad daylight, they realise they need a distraction. Marcus suggests a triple nine – aka – the murder of a fellow policeman which will cause every cop in the city to rush to the victim’s aid. Marcus volunteers to murder his new partner, war veteran Chris (Casey Affleck), whose disillusioned uncle Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson, excellent) happens to be lead investigator on the thieves’ crimes.

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Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr.

The film benefits from heart racing action sequences, particularly its opening set-piece or its mid-point raid of a drug dealers’ apartment by Marcus and Chris’ – the latter of which slowly builds as they ascend each apartment level and then explodes in a frenzy of bullets. The choreography is eye-popping, with the gritty visuals (similar to The Wire) being broken by splashes of bright yellows and dark reds (see opening sequence). Its script, although lacking to some degree in substance, makes up for it with its frequently surprising but smooth plot development, as well as its strain of jet-black humour. The performances impress across the board with Kate Winslet’s ice-queen and Clifton Collins Jr’s suave but menacing performance as the dirtiest cop of the group most deserving of praise.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Although, the film will inevitably suffer from comparisons to Michael Mann’s Heat – the ne plus ultra of crime dramas – Triple 9’s inventive combination of genre, as well as its extraordinarily tense action scenes and ensemble cast, help the film overcome its lack of substance.

Better Call Saul S02E01 “Switch” Review

download.jpgIn its confident season two opener “Switch” (written and directed by Thomas Schnauz), Better Call Saul proves once again it is too brilliant to be considered a mere “spinoff”. Vince Gilligan could have created a show which appealed more to Breaking Bad fans, but it would have been derivative and a poor attempt at a cash grab. Instead he took one of his shows’ most entertaining but underdeveloped characters and created a character study which possesses a great deal of depth. Better Call Saul is not afraid to dedicate full episodes to Jimmy’s personal growth. It is a slower, more thoughtful show than its predecessor, but as I said it’s wrong to compare the two.

bcs2.1.1.pngAn example of the shows’ slow-burning but astute storytelling is the first scene in “Switch”. It begins giving the viewer a glimpse into Jimmy’s life post-Breaking Bad. The gorgeous and tragic black and white opening, sees Jimmy donning a moustache and a new identity in Nebraska – working in a Cinnabun. While closing up the store, he gets a locked in a room in which the only way to escape is to ring the alarm. However, a sign states that if he does this the police will arrive. Fearing his alias will be blown, he is forced to spend the whole night alone. It’s a thoughtful sequence as it captures the real tension at the heart of Better Call Saul. As it takes place primarily before the events of Breaking Bad, the audience has grown to know Jimmy and we can see that he is a good person. However following the events in season one’s finale (which kick-start his descent into Saul Goodman), he realises that is what’s holding him back in life. The conflict is that viewers are aware that Jimmy is inevitably going to become Saul and then later become Gene (his alias in Nebraska), but we want him to be good and not “break bad”.

better-call-saul-2x01-better-call-saul-switch.jpgFollowing the flash-forward, the show begins immediately after the events of the first season. Jimmy (the always brilliant Bob Odenkirk), after the shocking confrontation with his brother Chuck (Michael McKean – missing in action in Switch), is determined to abandon law and revert back to his old con-man days. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) – Jimmy’s friend and potential love interest, upon learning this, tries to convince him to take the position he was offered by her boss. However, she becomes involved in his Sting-esque conning of an arrogant stock trader (Kyle Bornheimer). Also, bodyguard Mike (Jonathan Banks – excellent), following a feud with his newly-confident but weak boss – drug distributor Price, loses his job. Without Mike’s supervision, Price is targeted by drug dealer Nacho (Michael Mando).

Screenshot 2016-02-19 21.58.50.pngSwitch is an episode which sets in motion the events of season two, while still remaining compelling on a character level. Aside from Mike’s subplot, by the end of the episode there are no big revelations. Instead there are subtle character moments that imply change. For instance, the last moment of the episode sees Jimmy, in a new office, reading a warning on a wall switch stating “Always leave on!! Do not turn off”. Jimmy tears the sign and flicks the switch. Nothing happens, but it’s a symbol that Jimmy isn’t going to be “Mr Niceguy” anymore and be supressed by outside forces. This is all the more upsetting considering the opening of the episode which sees him trapped by a similar sign. Mike’s subplot is more akin to something from Breaking Bad but even that story isn’t wrapped up in a neat bow for viewers in the way it would have been in Gilligan’s previous show. Better Call Saul is a different, quirky but intelligent beast which, although lacks action, benefits from a nuanced script, witty dialogue and two fantastic lead performances.

Deadpool Review

b4w8wlx.jpgDeadpool, for the most part, is everything comic-book aficionados and casual film goers have long desired. Produced and starring Ryan Reynolds, the ultimate fanboy for the source material (he spent years lobbying for his solo film), one can feel within the film the love everyone involved has for its titular character. It centres upon the fourth-wall breaking, wise-cracking Wade Wilson – a mercenary who spends his days acting as a violent and intrusive P.I. After falling in love with escort Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin – Homeland, Gotham), he is diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer. However, he is given the chance to save himself by volunteering for a secret program. His experience leaves him physically scarred and mentally unhinged and Wade vows to murder the people that are responsible.

Deadpool, from the beginning, establishes itself as being more witty and self-referential than any comic-book adaptation to date. Its opening credits are a wickedly funny summarization of superhero tropes. Instead of the names of the various stars, producers and the director, we are treated to a roasting of Hollywood’s traditional methods of casting. Reynolds is credited as “God’s Perfect Idiot”, Baccarin as “a hot girl”, villain Ed Skrein as “a British villain” etc. The film is also noted as being directed by “an overpaid tool” and the writers are dubbed “the true heroes”. Deadpool continues this trend throughout with its titular character addressing the audience directly to describe how he only got his solo film by fondling a certain Aussie celebrity. It also takes time to mock its own budget and the increasingly complicated casting in the recent X-Men movies (which this, even more confusingly, is a part of).

3049488-inline-i-1-deadpool-trailer-unleashed.jpgThere are some problems with the film. In terms of its plotting it does not subvert superhero tropes as much as it thinks it does. Like recent Avengers films, it ends in an over-the-top final battle, in which the humour (although still present) is muted in exchange for some generic fights. Gina Carano (Haywire, Fast & Furious 6), for the most part, is wasted in her henchmen role and Ed Skrein (The Transporter Refuelled) is rather bland as the villain, although thankfully the film’s 16 rating means that he is appropriately nastier than many recent comic-book bad guys (not Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave I should note). However despite these flaws Deadpool succeeds on the strength of its central performance and character. Off the back of two terrific performances last year in The Voices and Mississippi Grind, Reynolds’ second time in the role, following X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is a tour-de-force managing to capture Deadpool’s scabrous and irreverent side, while still making the audience believe in his character’s transformation. He and Baccarin share great chemistry and surprisingly add real heart to a film which constantly keeps reminding the viewer it is a film.

Verdict: 3/4

Deadpool, despite some flaws, is deliriously fun and features Ryan Reynolds at the top of his game. I say bring on Deadpool 2, hopefully with Cable (stay for the end credits).

Trumbo Review

download.jpgJay Roach’s Trumbo features at least three subplots which would have made fine films by themselves. Its subject – Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), screenwriter of Roman Holiday and Spartacus who was targeted and subsequently blacklisted from Hollywood by the HUAC for his Communist views, provides a rich, wealth of material on which to draw upon. I could have easily sat through a family drama revolving around Trumbo’s home life with his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and daughter Nikola (Elle Fanning) as they strived to survive on Trumbo’s limited income. I would have paid to see comedy centring around a two-time Oscar winner forced to work for producer Frank King (John Goodman), a man who publicly describes his films as “shit” and claims his audiences cannot read. I would have enjoyed a film which focused on the individual clash between Trumbo and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), a strong supporter of the HUAC who wielded wide influence and openly hated Trumbo. John McNamara’s (Aquarius) script features all these elements and many more, thus leading to a slightly disjointed film filled to the brim with great performances and scenes, as well as beautiful period detail.

23582748.jpgMcNamara’s script is rather conventional in its formatting. It does not subvert the standards of the traditional biopic. However, his dialogue is often witty and at times biting – particularly anytime Helen Mirren’s over-the-top Cruella De Vil influenced Hedda Hopper is onscreen. Individual scenes are fantastic, particularly the ones featuring Trumbo’s working conditions with John Goodman or his home life with Diane Lane and Elle Fanning. Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, Steve Jobs) hands in an extremely nuanced portrayal of Edward G. Robinson. He manages to make one reconsider the view of the confident and powerful Robinson in his films such as Key Largo, Double Indemnity or Little Caesar while never slipping into simple caricature.

bryan-cranston-trumbo.jpgHowever, Cranston deserves the real praise, managing to hold the movie together in his Oscar nominated performance as the central character. He convinces as both the rich radical willing to fight for his beliefs and the tired, broken man forced to rely upon whiskey and Benzedrine in order to work eighteen hours a day producing schlock. While the film veers wildly in tone between scenes, Cranston never plays Trumbo as too broad in the moments of comedy or too emotional in the melodramatic parts. He remains constant while the film does anything but.

Verdict: 3/4

Flawed but entertaining, Trumbo hangs together on the strength of Bryan Cranston’s central performance.

Spotlight Review

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After months of discussion in regards to its potential success at award ceremonies, what surprised me most about Spotlight is how different it is from other films that take a harrowing subject matter and transform it into Oscar bait (looking at you The Danish Girl). For instance, a central character goes through a divorce but we never see any domestic squabbles and the separation is only briefly alluded to. There are no courtroom showdowns. Spotlight is a remarkably low-key affair, with only one moment where an actor gets to shout and beat his chest in anger. Its story details the investigation by the Spotlight team (a group of journalists for The Boston Globe that spend months working on one article in depth) into the complicity of the Catholic Church in regards to child sex abuse committed by priests in Boston.

Although viewers are most likely aware of the events which transpired and their outcome, the film still manages to compel its audience.  It does this by not just simply retelling a true story, but by focusing on the investigation itself (the endless setbacks, the years of research, the moments where the journalists realise the extent of the abuse). In doing this, the film achieves a sense of realism by not shying away from the mundane tasks its central journalists are forced into doing (it’s a story pre-Internet which gives the feel of a period piece despite it taking place in 2001). This extended time with the characters allows the audience to become emotionally invested with them as they uncover the truly shocking revelations.

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Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian

The film, like the investigators themselves, does not target the individual culprits. There is only one scene in which we see an accused priest (a short but disturbing moment). Instead it takes aim at the institution itself. The Roman Catholic Church is depicted as permeating all levels of life in the Boston Area. It has connections with lawyers, police and newspapers which enabled it to hide its secrets from the public eye. It’s a smart move by writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent) and co-writer Josh Singer to tackle the Church rather than the priests themselves. It allows them to explore the psychological reasons as to why so many turned a blind eye to the alarmingly high rate of despicable crime which took place. As anxious lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) warns journalist Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) that the Church will “come after you and your family”, the phone-call cuts out mid-sentence. From the information provided previously, it crosses one’s mind that the institution may even be tapping phones. It’s never alluded to again but it’s a strange and clever moment that manages to make the audience question how powerful the Church really are.

In terms of the performances, there is no weak leak in the ensemble cast. Highlights include Tucci’s performance as the unfriendly lawyer who alerts Spotlight to the story. Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) impresses in the understated role as Marty Baron, a Jew and therefore outsider in Boston who becomes the new editor of The Globe and urges Spotlight to pursue Garabedian’s claims. Ruffalo is undoubtedly worthy of his Oscar nomination as the dogged and tenacious reporter dedicated to bringing his investigation into the public’s consciousness by whatever means necessary. If Spotlight has a flaw, it isn’t very cinematic. The visuals feel slightly televisual. However, one gets the feeling McCarthy did not want to distract from the story which is admirable and there are a few moments of smart direction such as a subtle close-up on a victim’s arm to highlight their history of drug use.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Gripping and alarming, Spotlight is an excellent drama which highlights a dark time in the recent past.