[Movies] Calvary (review)

Priest (Brendan Gleeson) in Calvary

Director: John Michael McDonagh // Screenplay by: John Michael McDonagh // Distributor: Entertainment One // Release Date: April 11th (UK) // Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, Pat Shortt, Aiden Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson.

Review: It’s rather galling just how inevitable the subject of child abuse has become when discussing priests, with accounts of unspeakable brutality echoing through the minds of a generation at the mere mention of the catholic church. In a move indicative of his film’s often stifling self-awareness, director John Michael McDonagh practically herds the expected elephant into the room with a parade in Calvary’s opening scene, when community cornerstone Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) hears out one man’s childhood trauma during an anonymous confession. With the perverted priest responsible for these acts now dead, his unseen victim vows to kill Father James in a week. Bemused, and with this rendezvous on the periphery of his mind, Father James keeps himself busy aiding the roster of eccentrics that populate his rural Irish town.

The plot holds promise, but Calvary craves a crackling energy in place of the dead air that haunts too many of its scenes. Some of these just about coast by on the charisma of established Irish actors turning in reductive variations of their established schtick, from Pat Shortt’s salty everyman routine to Aiden Gillen’s inky misanthropy. Other supporting players either lack conviction (such as a curiously flat Chris O’Dowd) or are ill-served by portentous characterisation (Dylan Moran’s oily banker seems tailor-made to give viewers left embittered by the recession an excuse to hurl their drinks at the screen.) McDonagh’s script holds some cute observations – most of which pertain to Father James’s interactions with either his dog, or M. Emmet Walsh’s crusty writer – but is largely comprised of turgid pseudo-philosophical babble that goes nowhere. Father James’s visiting daughter (Kelly Reilly), meanwhile, exists only so he can contradict her cynicism with cloying wisdom.

Just as his character is a guiding light to a town full of misfits, Gleeson remains the film’s one true saving grace. Earthy and affable, he navigates the film’s episodic structure and tonal inconsistencies with a strong screen presence. The universal praise he’s been receiving for his performance will ensure vehicles more proportional to his talent are a distinct possibility, but for the almost thankless task of carrying Calvary, he will forever be in our prayers.

3.5/10

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[Movies] Eraserhead (review)

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Director: David Lynch // Screenplay by: David Lynch // Distributor: Libra Films International // Release Date: March 19th, 1977 // Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, and Jeanne Bates. 

Review: Early in Eraserhead, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) holds a mirror to the audience’s inevitable bemusement. As he tells his boorish father-in-law, Henry, rather like the viewer, “doesn’t know much of anything” – but that’s OK. Knowledge rarely equals power in the world of David Lynch.

His first feature-length picture comes with a fresh-out-film-school verve that is at once immersive and uncomfortable, with its black and white aesthetic serving as a perversely cosy frame for some nightmarish images of DIY body-horror. The imagery is so blatantly sexual that a Freudian analysis would almost be as redundant as an elaboration of the plot. Henry’s arc revolves around his mounting obsession with a swollen-cheeked chanteuse credited as the Lady in the Radiator, who offers him reprieve from his malformed child; a sperm-shaped humanoid with snake-like qualities that may very well have been a prototype of the chestburster from Alien.

Much of the film’s horror is derived from its hideously bleak set design, with the gloomy cinematography and paranoid soundscapes colliding for a sombre viewing experience. But Eraserhead is more than just a mood piece. The intermittent presence of Henry’s darkly seductive neighbour lends the film a noirish feel, while Henry’s shocking response to the duties he’s been burdened with is a highly unnerving set-piece.

Lynch found mainstream success with slightly more conventional works since, but the taciturn Eraserhead is still essential viewing. If the plot seems underfed on paper, then open your mind, press play and let it devour you.

8.5/10

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[Movies] The Way, Way Back (review)

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Director: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash // Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures // Release Date: August 28th // Starring: Liam Jones, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Alison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet and Maya Rudolph // Plot: Depressed at the thought of staying with his mother and her arrogant boyfriend at the latter’s summer beach house, taciturn teen Duncan (Jones) finds reprieve in his  bond with Owen , the sarcastic but nurturing manager of the Water Wizz water park.

Review: Why Nat Faxon and Jim Rash leave it to sixteen-year old Liam Jones to find substance in their directorial debut is a mystery, especially with the likes of Steve Carrell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney on the payroll.

To say that The Killing star comes up short is not to denounce his ability. His turn as despondent teen Duncan occasionally hits the right notes, particularly in a stilted ‘heart to heart’ with his mother’s snide boyfriend Trent (Carrell), who asks his potential stepson to rate himself out of ten. When met with a hopeful answer, Trent cruelly negates it. Jones matches Carrell’s almost overwhelmingly smug air with a squirming delivery that brilliantly conveys the awkwardness of adolescence. In a car with only Trent, his prickly daughter Steph, and Duncan’s sleeping mother Pam (Collette) for company, his performance appears stark and understated. With the arrival of Janney’s vivacious Betty – a one-woman Neighbourhood Watch who ambushes this makeshift clan the second they arrive at their summer beach house –  Jones seems borderline catatonic.

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[Movies] Bachelorette (review)

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Director: Leslye Headland // Distributor: Creative Arts Agency // Release Date: August 16th // Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fischer, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Kyle Bornheimer and Rebel Wilson.

Review: The sooner you accept that some people are just plain nasty, the better. Such an epiphany is key to enjoying Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette, a comedy fronted by Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fischer at their most caustic. Somewhere within Headland’s script is a tale of friends left scarred by their rocky formative years. The primary concern, however, is to spin a lean, cocaine-fuelled yarn, with plenty of snide quips and romantic revelations along the way.

Dunst is Regan, a tightly-wound viper in designer gear who must look on as her pleasantly plump chum Becky (Rebel Wilson) is the first of her high school clique to get married. Punctual and pedantic, she has been entrusted with pulling together every facet of Becky’s wedding to the handsome Dale (Hayes MacArthur), while the remaining B-Faces – coarse cynic Gena (Caplan) and dizzy, free-wheeling nymph Katie (Fischer) – tread on some serious eggshells the night before the big day. With the bachelorette party coming to an abrupt end, Regan, Gena and Katie decide to drink some champagne, take some coke and tear Becky’s dress in half while trying to prove that two people can fit in it. And so begins their late night dash around New York city, their trek running parallel with the groom’s bachelor party, led by the obnoxious but sexy Trevor (James Marsden).

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[Movies] Before Midnight (review)

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Director: Richard Linklater // Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing // Release Date: June 21st // Starring: Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply.

It’s been nine years since we last checked in one of modern cinema’s most intoxicating love stories. This third installment initially paints a picture of domestic bliss for cerebral soul mates Jesse and Celine. Hank, the former’s teenage son from a previous marriage, has just spent what he calls the “best summer of my life” with his father’s family (including his twin girls, conceived in the wake of Before Sunset’s romantic trysts) on the Greek Peloponnese peninsula, and the film begins with a quietly panicked Jesse seeing him off at the airport. It’s a winning opening, with Hawke’s affectingly strained performance suggesting that priorities have changed since Jesse first boarded that train to Vienna almost twenty years ago.

Personalities run the risk of being diluted when children are thrown into the mix, but in a ballsy move, Before Midnight positions its characters as people, not parents. Lazy scriptwriting and mortifying perceptions of gender norms mean female characters are most likely to fall prey to the insipid trappings of domesticity. Thankfully, Celine is as unmovable as ever. Her inclination for tart honesty and playful emasculation has only strengthened over the years, and it’s the latter trait that allows tension to mount over otherwise jovial group dinners.

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[Movies] Stories We Tell (review)

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Director: Sarah Polley // Distributor: Artificial Eye // Release Date: June 28th // Starring: Michael Polley, Sarah Polley, Pixie Bigelow, Joanna Polley, John Buchan, Geoffrey Bowes and Susy Buchan.

The multitalented Sarah Polley seeks answers to some very personal questions in this touching documentary. Through a series of jovial interviews, Polley explores the art of storytelling and the impact one particular tale has had on her own life.

Stories We Tell could so easily have been a trifling vanity project. That it isn’t stands not only as a testament to Polley’s talent, but also her inherent likability and aversion to vanity. Behind the mixing desk at a recording studio, Polley coaches her father Michael as he reads out his own account of the many questions left behind in the wake of his wife’s death. She sits there exposed; no Hollywood lighting, no flaw-devouring make-up. The same could be said of her family, who make up the bulk of her interviewees. Few of them are formally introduced and minimal background information is given. Characters instead develop as the film progresses, granting the documentary a swift pace that takes you straight to the heart of their family dynamic.

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[Movies] Renoir (review)

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Director: Gilles Bourdos // Distributor: Soda Pictures // Release Date: June 28th // Starring: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, and Vincent Rottiers.

Review: The sumptuous Côte d’Azur setting of Renoir may suggest a languorous tone, but Gilles Bourdos’ story of a precocious teenager reigniting the passions of both of an aging artist and his convalescent son boasts a satisfying sense of momentum.

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