Category Archives: Film Reviews

A late ‘Arrival’ – Film Review


The most notable cinematic aliens to visit Monatana (since the Star Trekkers brought the Borg) have landed there and in eleven other global locations.  Linguist, Dr. Louise Banks, (Amy Adams) and Theoretical Physicist, Ian Donnelly, (Jeremy Renner) are sent to work out what they want. All global locations are on high alert as they try to work together in the race for a breakthrough. The U.S. Military is represented by a benign Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) while intelligence is served by an obtuse Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg).

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Director Denis Villeneuve delivers the action at a slow and steady rate; his sense of apprehension-building makes the film seem to have more pace than it actually does.  The majority of scenes are interiors; mixed with the apprehension, this gives the film an appropriately claustrophobic and tense quality. The Sci-fi elements are set into a more grounded world to which we can relate. It follows more in the vein of Interstellar, Moon or Contact rather than the spectacles and high ideals of Star Wars and Star Trek. It is refreshingly subdued and contained for the sci fi genre.

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All performances are appropriately understated; Amy Adams gives a subtle, thoughtful and retro-reflective performance as a bereaved mother and we are given a series of somewhat disconnected yet touching memories of her relationship with her daughter as she battles to understand the Alien dialect.  Jeremy Renner does his Jeremy Renner thing, with glasses because he is a mathematician, but does not feel out of place while doing it. Forest Whitaker brings an almost too benign and understanding quality to his Army Colonel and following with the film’s muted tone Stuhlbarg’s spiteful investigator is wonderfully snide rather than brash and loud.

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There is an already contentious feature spliced into the plot which is no more bizarre than Interstellar and already some people are finding silly. While it could have dug deeper into an explanation of a few of these plot devices I still found it to be gentle, cozy and delivered endearingly despite its simplicity. It would sit comfortably beside “A.I.” in a sci-fi collection.

I came away with a warm content monies-worth feeling. Overall it worked for me.

7/10

Arrival on IMDB

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Tomorrowland – Directed by Brad Bird for Disney


A few months ago I saw one trailer for “Tomorrowland” and managed to avoid everything about it since. That one trailer promised to transport us to the futuristic world of the title and the film does just that but not in the way I imagined. For a sci-fi movie the grounded atmosphere, in one sense, follows in the the legacy of Spielberg’s “Close Encounter of a Third Kind” and “ET – The Extra Terrestrial” and in another sense it pays many sweet homages to the U.S.’s view of the future as it was imagined up to and in the 1960s and sci-fi films since.

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George Clooney’s Frank Walker, coming from a long line of Disney’s disillusioned inventors, has been kicked out of Tomorrowland (for spoiler reasons I will not go into) and is persuaded to return by two of the films real stars Britt Robertson as Casey and Raffey Cassidy’s Athena. Robertson is one of the coolest rebel girls-next-door characters you could meet and you root for her all the way while Cassidy plays Athena with a curious grown-up mix of charm and underlying agenda.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Casey (Britt Robertson) ..Ph: Film Frame..?Disney 2015

There are nods to “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang”, “The Jetsons”, even “The Matrix” and more. In one scene there is an entire shop full of homages. It is plain to see that Brad Bird had dealt mostly with animated entertainment up to now as the action is directed very much with that kind of an eye, for instance, there is a lovely moment with Clooney’s guard dog that is straight out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. More of the movie’s style come’s from his animation backgrounds, the chases, the set design’s, the humour (one character nods directly to his earlier movie “The Iron Giant”). Bird infuses the story with his always unsentimental warmth, packed it full of great gadgets, and lots of universally accessible humour.

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While I would recommend it and the clear message it delivers to children (and adults) about holding onto your early dreams and being overwhelmingly positive, there is something lacking in the movie as a whole. Perhaps the evil threat (while all encompassing) wasn’t delivered with the impact it deserved, or the baddies, while entertaining, were a little to distant and even somewhat benign. Or Perhaps Bird was making a film about ‘chasing your dreams and not giving up’ for his own generation and somewhere along the way today’s children were a little obscured from the vision.

The verdict… it is lovely, entertaining and funny but not as consistently so as three of his previous film which I have adored, “The Iron Giant”, “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”.

Tomorrowland is in cinemas now  7/10

At A Glance – 2015 Best Picture Nominations in The Academy Awards – the Oscars!


American Sniper
Directed by Clint Eastwood

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Eastwood has fine-tuned the harrowing journey. Here he has a beefed up Bradley Cooper giving an intimate glimpse of how real-life Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle’s successful military career emotionally affected his domestic life back in the U.S. between his many tours. Eastwood balances the conflict and domestic scenes with skill. While both sides of Kyle’s life are well crafted and full of different types of tensions I never fully warmed to the characters and the film left me exhausted.


 

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

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A dizzyingly shot story of the fictitious, once famous, superhero actor Riggan (Michael Keaton) and his quest to be taken seriously by his audiences, friends and family. This is a highly enjoyable and dark romp, a great supporting cast and cracking dialogue. Shot mostly with interiors gives the atmosphere a claustrophobic quality reflecting Riggan’s struggles as he attempts to put on a broadway play and juggle the different parts of his fractured life. The cinematography and CGI is excellent at creating the impression that the film is almost one continuous shot. But ultimately the journey is better than the destination.


 

Boyhood
Directed by Richard Linklater

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Linklater charts the growth of his main character Mason (Ellar Coletrane) and the story of his family in a brave approach by shooting and basing the film in bursts over a 12 year period (2002-2013). It is filled with natural story arcs and great period music with such subtle year changes that you can sometimes it takes more than a few moments to realise that we have moved into the next phase of their lives. The ensemble cast is perfect (in particular Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). Linklater delivers a slice-of-life movie that leaves others in the genre like crumbs on a plate. Eat your heart out reality T.V.


 

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson

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Back to his best since “The Royal Tennenbaums” Anderson has put together my favourite film of the eight. It centres on the morally questionable exploits of, Gustav H (Ralph Feinnes), the manager of the imaginary hotel in question. In Fiennes he has found a lead actor who wears Anderson’s quick fire dialogue like an old glove. Each frame is a visual masterpiece the zany humour and adventures do not let up until the credits start to roll. My full review here.


 

The Imitation Game
Directed by Morten Tyldum

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Benedict Cumberbatch pours much of his Sherlock character and then some into his portrayal of the brilliant and fragile character of the Father of Computer Science Alan Turing. The narrative jumps between three parts of his life focusing mainly on Turing’s code-breaking time during the Second World War in Bletchley Park. Tyldum puts together the film much like a code dropping clues here and there that will all eventually slot together into an unexpectedly emotional final bow. There are some wonderful examples of dialogue subtext in Turing’s interrogations. Of all the nominated films based on real events this is my personal favourite. My full review here.


 

Selma
Directed by Ava DuVernay

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A powerful drama based on the defining battle in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement between Martin Luther King Junior (an excellent David Oyelowo) and President Lyndon B. Johnson ( the wonderful Tom Wilkinson) in the town of Selma. The film manages to deal with the national politics of the day down to minutae of small personal battles of minor characters without overcrowding the narrative or confusing the audience. While the film has been criticised for some historical inaccuracies it is still a powerful drama with excellent performances.


 

The Theory of Everything
Directed by James Marsh

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Eddie Redmayne looks like he was born to play Professor Stephen Hawking. Marsh focuses on the relationship between Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde. Remayne is astounding not only in his physical resemblance to the brilliant Professor but in the portrayal of the particular and well known way the physical decline of Motor Neuron Disease has left Professor Hawking. The main emphasis of the film lies in the emotional impact of the disease had mainly on his wife Jane (a touching performance by felicity Jones) as she struggled to raise their children. Though Hawking’s brilliance is evident his mathematical work in Cosmology is more of a supporting ‘character’.


 

Whiplash
Directed by Damien Chazelle

Whiplash
Andrew, young drummer, (Miles Teller) with hopes to impress Fletcher, a ruthless college orchestra conductor, at all costs. Chazelle has sculpted a compelling battle between mentor and student, so much so that the scenes when the two are not together seem flat. Teller, looking like a buffed up Wil Wheaton, is convincing the talented drummer whose hero worship of the greats compels him to make poor life choices. J K Simmons is stand out as the brutal mentor. I have never been so excited to see someone take to the drums. His makes for a compelling drama with a wonderful finale.

My top films here for overall performances, filmmaking and enjoyment levels are The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel and I feel the Oscar for Best Picture should land firmly land in the magnificent Boyhood.

The Imitation Game – Film Review


A biopic of Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, early computer scientist, ultra distance runner, and much more.  It focuses on his schooldays, his time during the Second World War at Bletchley Park and the last few years of his life.

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If you have ever chuckled at the joke “Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.” then this film will partially wipe the smile from your face. While the Second World War is part of the reason Turing came to prominence this is not a war movie. This is an in depth character study of a man whose impact not just on code breaking during the war but subsequently on the foundation of modern computer science and Artificial intelligence theory was written out of history for decades because of an outdated law.

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Benedict Cumberbatch gives a touching performance as Turning the brilliant and fragile genius. The character of Turing is not a million miles away from Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. We are given hints to Turing’s almost autistic habits and clearly see how his frank genius repelled and intimidated the people around him. Cumberbatch executes this mostly with understatement and his rare bursts of emotion which are mostly tied to his research. Kiera Knightley seems to be best playing Kiera Knightly in many of her roles and here she does not disappoint. Charles Dance is impressively commanding as the cold military face of the operations in Bletchley Park while Mark Strong subtly impresses as the shadowy M16 intermediary.

Apart from some artistic license, which gives Turing only marginally more credit for his part in the Bletchley Park success, the screenplay/editing is a true masterpiece. We are given three story arcs from Turing’s life, his schooldays,  Bletchley Park and the last years of his life all in a skillful non linear fashion. Naturally the War years would have attracted most people to this story but the filmmakers have made the other two sections as compelling. Good screenwriters (and good story tellers) drip feed information about character and plot to us but here they have gone a step further. Besides many passages of dialogue cleverly written with a code-like subtext it is the presentation of the different phases throughout Turing’s life is in a suitably puzzle-like manner which makes the build-up fascinating and compelling while the climax of the film is deceptively emotional.

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While the action mostly takes place inside different buildings the director, Morten Tyldum, makes excellent use of the interior spaces which adds to the atmosphere of the film. It is worth a trip to the cinema. Even more so for admirers of Turing.

Alan Turing had an even more fascinating (and tragically short) existence than the film captures but they have made a gripping story about a mathematician and the delivered interwoven slices are a fitting testament to the incredible man’s life.

9/10

 The Imitation Game is in Irish Cinemas now.

Check your local Irish Cinema here

Interstellar – Film Review


A few generations from now the Earth’s soil is losing the ability to grow enough food to sustain the Human Race. A slim chance for survival rests in a space trip to another galaxy for a group of brave scientists piloted by Cooper (Matthew McConaughey).

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The words ‘spectacle’ or ‘epic’ are not used lightly when talking about many of director Christopher Nolan’s films. He burst onto the scene with his second feature “Memento” and then seduced us with his Batman trilogy and delightfully confused us  with “The Prestige” and “Inception”.

Through these films he has explored memory loss, time lapsing dreams, magicians, and the nocturnal crime fighting habits of a deeply disturbed millionaire and all with a sweep of a cape embedded with a grand style and neatly stitched with misdirection.

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With “Interstellar” Nolan revisits many of these themes and creates an atmosphere we last saw in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of a Third Kind” while borrowing from a Twilight Zone episode which deals with what the effects of Interstellar space travel may have on humans. The first hour and half is well-crafted. We are drawn into the world of pilot-turned-farmer-Cooper, his family, in particular the relationship with his daughter Murph and the plans to save the Human race from a crumbling Earth. Once his incredible journey had begun Nolan asks the audience to make a number of small leaps of faith. They are just about forgivable because we are hooked.

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McConaughey is still playing his usual role (I confess to not having seen his Oscar winning turn in the Dallas Buyers club yet) and it fits in here as the suave and commanding pilot turned family man.  Anne Hathaway is perfectly sharp as the physicist who accompanies his on the journey. Michael Caine gives a grandfatherly performance as Hathaway’s father (also a physicist). There is a lovely injection of comic relief delivered by the clever artificially intelligent mechatronic robots who lumber about with their own peculiar and charming style.

It is long and it is as sentimental as his Batman trilogy was stirring. There are passages of dialogue in the second half of the film that are almost unnaturally verbose especially when dealing with the themes of love versus science and survival. Romantic love is not a theme that Nolan seems to gravitate toward and instead he pours all of his sentimentality on the relationship between Cooper and his daughter and does not spill one drop.

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There are breathtaking moments and some nice little plot diversions that will pique your attention. While the graphics are incredibly stunning, making the film a visual feast, it is the final, and massive, leap of faith makes the film good but not great science fiction and yet still very enjoyable.

As with “Memento” and “Inception” he uses an innovative Time device in the plot like a vendor infuses a whipped ice cream with a delicious syrupy sauce.

If you can watch it in a screen like the Omniplex MAXX in Rathmines! 

8/10

Interstellar is in Irish cinemas now.

Noble (2014) – Film Review


Thanks to Eclipse Pictures for the advanced screening

The true story of Christina Noble, who suffered neglect, abuse and rape through her formative years in Ireland and England only to make a better life for herself and others in Vietnam.

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Sitting comfortably between Philomena and Angela’s Ashes, “Noble” is the true story of poverty stricken, Catholic dominated Ireland where a young girl grows into womanhood despite the neglect of her family and the nefarious influence of Nuns.

While the narrative is not completely linear it does begin with her childhood. Director Stephen Bradley (Sweety Barrett, Boy Eats Girl) then inter-cuts the rest of the film switching between adult Christina’s story of her first trip to Vietnam in the 1989 with the rest of her teens and twenties.

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The youngest Christina is played, in a stunning debut, by Gloria Cramer Curtis displaying cockiness and compassion in equal measure as her life takes unfortunate turns. Liam Cunningham is totally convincing as her wasteful and drunken father. Sarah Greene deftly takes up Christina’s late-teenage years where the film charts how alone she is in the world with the exception of one friend Joan (the always dependable Ruth Negga). Irish actress and comedian Deirdre O’Kane plays the brash and driven adult Christina as she pursues a vague dream that brings her to Vietnam in 1989.

When O’Kane first appeared in the story it was hard for me to separate her from her funny stand-up career and her comedic turns on Irish television and film. She reminded me too much of simply a more serious version of herself. But after a few inter-cuts with scenes from her youth we are shown what made Christina Noble the adult she becomes in O’Kane’s performance. Perhaps a more linear narrative might have helped.

Poverty stricken Dublin looks suitably filthy: all kudos to the production designers here as their recreations of destitute Dublin, working class London and meltingly hot and seedy Vietnam give the film a wonderful atmosphere (the film was actually shot in The UK and Vietnam).  Though is a gap in the story at the end of Sarah Greene’s London section of the film. We do not see Christina through the years when she reared her children into adulthood and I feel even a glimpse of this would have helped the narrative. Also a little more of the delightful Curtis, the youngest Christina, would have made more of an impact on the story.

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The scenes of awful abuse that Christina endured from her teens in Dublin trough to her twenties in London, mostly in Greene’s section of her life, are in no way ambiguous and still they are handled with a skill which leaves the audience with an emotional residue of her ordeals without being exposed to any explicitly violent visuals. As Bradley seems more interested in getting on with Christina’s story it feels like the Greene was not given the space to indulge the emotional damage that other filmmakers might have capitalised upon.

Throughout her harrowing experiences Christina holds on tightly to her unwavering belief in God. I can see this film being shown for years to older classes in Catholic run and influenced schools.

The time in Vietnam is perhaps the slowest part of the film as not much happens in the first few scenes and perhaps a more linear approach would have helped us to understand what her character had gone through before she arrived in Asia. The pace builds up as Christina slowly carves her own niche and becomes a defender of street children in whom she sees so much of her own upbringing.

Still this is a well-made and ultimately moving tale of the tough life and tenacity of Christina Noble. A lesson that no matter what is thrown at them some people they will keep on fighting. She is a woman whose story deserved to be told. We need more like her.

7/10

Noble is on Irish cinemas on 19th September

Christina Noble Children’s Foundation

Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon – Spellbound (1945) – Beanmimo


This is a guest blog I wrote for MovieRob’s Hitchcock Blogathon.

hitchcockFor our next review for the Alfred Hitchcock blogathon (our 31st), we present you with a review of Spellbound by Ben Moore of Beanmimo.

Thanks Ben for being a part of this!

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Spellbound (1945) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Bu Ben Moore of Beanmimo

An aloof and professional psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman) falls for the new head of psychiatry (Gregory Peck) but once he begins to display odd behaviour (leading to a manhunt) she has to use her psychoanalytical skills to find out whether he is guilty or innocent of murder.

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The first time I watched this dark chapter on Hitchcock’s repertoire was about 25 years ago and it left me with three lasting impressions: Dali’s dream sequences, the old and shrewd psychiatrist played by Michael Chechov and it was the first time I had seen Ingrid Bergman outside of Casablanca.

Audiences today will find the plot use of basic Freudian…

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