Tag Archives: review

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

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History of the Rain by Niall Williams – Book Review


Bedridden bookworm, Ruth Swain, spins a story focused on the paternal genealogy of her family aided by the insights from the inhabitants of her rural Irish village and some famous literary characters.

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I am not surprised that this book made the long list for the ManBooker 2014. Niall Williams has created a work which is both deeply insightful, emotionally rich, evoking universal themes through a parochial lens and above all it is so beautifully written that you could imagine that each sentence might have taken a week to sculpt.

While it is set in the present day the story has a classic edge and is told by the agoraphobic, ill-stricken and well-read narrator Ruth as she occupies her time in the attic of her family home trying to paint a literary picture of her father. To do this she explains, she must begin with her Great-Grand Father. We are treated to their rich history which she patches together by borrowing from voices of long dead authors.

Ruth’s narrative is full of lovely ironic humour which underlines the regret she feels her ancestors sensed about their own offspring.

Even though the story is set in post-economic-bust Ireland the style is classic in nature. It is a first person internal monologue from the self-confessed unreliable narration from Ruth. She admits very early on that she knows little about her ancestors but manages to bring them alive through the many references from literary authors, their characters and gossipy allusions from the ‘real’ people who live in her village of Faha. It is these devices which breathes life and grounds William’s novel and its main character.

Like a song the music of the sentences lures you in and like a river the winding story carries you to the end.

Her own character is an amalgam influence of the classic texts of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson to which she alludes often. She is externally bitter at her confinement but her softly jumbled internal voice proves that lives can be lived and created through literature. Ruth Swain’s character exemplifies the differences between the way people think and the way we act.

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This is a novel about seeking and revealing truths about the world, about families, about community, about isolation, the overcoming of obstacles, loss and about writing.

As well as all of the above “History of the Rain” is a novel that speaks directly to readers and writers about how stories are put together. The allusions to literary characters are treated in such a way that readers familiar with them will warm to their memories but Williams introduces them with a style that will not alienate those unfamiliar with the texts. This combined with the narrator’s comic use of the colloquialisms from her neighbours throughout the story makes the novel in some ways a subtle guide to writing.

He is proving the point that he makes in this sentence which arrives toward the end of the novel.

“Each book is the sum of all the others the writer has read”.

This is a wonderful sum.

8/10

Lucy – Film Review


Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), an American student in Taiwan, is forced to becoming a drug mule for a criminal gang. While being held captive she is exposed to the drug which gives her access to a rising percentage of her brain capacity.

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Luc Besson peppered my late teens and twenties with his wonderfully unique and fast paced films like Subway, The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element. Here he continues with one of his strongest themes i.e. increasingly kick ass female lead characters surrounded by a bunch of fairly helpless men.

This premise has been covered before (recently in the enjoyable but weakly concluded Limitless) but Besson takes a different view of how heightened brain capacity could affect a human. As opposed to the enjoyment, playfulness and commercial end of higher functioning we saw in Limitless, Lucy tries to treat the increasing awareness in a philosophical and scientific manner.

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But, and yes there is a big ‘but’ here… no, I lie, there are a lot of little ‘buts’ here. It begins slowly as little-to-no-background Lucy finds herself at the mercy of the stereo-typically one dimensional Taiwanese gangsters. This is inter cut with neuroscientist Professor Norman (an underused Morgan Freeman) giving a lecture on the potential effects of increased brain function (hammering home the foreshadowing Lucy’s development). His lecture on human development is punctuated by irrelevant images depicting survival and procreation.

Besson has also tried to make an action film here as well. The result is that we are given snatches of what is going through Lucy’s mind as her brain begins to view the world through a dazzlingly different lens. Just as this is getting interesting we must endure lengthy car chases and western like stand offs between various characters.

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Another ‘but’ is that the script is lazy and we are left no identifiable characters expect perhaps Pierre Del Rion (Amr Waked) the French Policeman who after being helpful for a brief moment seems to lose so much relevance to the plot at one stage he actually asks Lucy what she needs him for.

I am all for suspension of disbelief but there are too many conveniences to overlook here and a few plot holes to navigate around which drowns the enjoyment of a good concept. Even the end which is clever and messy at the same time cannot save the overall enjoyment.

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One thing Besson does not overlook is the use of Scarlet Johansson’s feminity. As per his usual feisty heroines, she dresses up and down, looks amazing, kicks ass and all the while Lucy’s initial character disappears cleverly into her evolving intellect.

Besson maybe just trying to outdo himself in the powerful female lead characters as I do believe If you put Lucy and Leeloo (from The Fifth Element) on a room together, Lucy would be the winner while as a movie it is the loser.

Fun but flawed.

5/10

Lucy is in Irish cinemas now.

Check your local Irish Cinema here

Pondling – Theatre Review


Thanks to Guna Nua for the invitation.

It is unusually hot in Dublin as we climb the stairs of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. A wardrobe to the left, an upturned crate in the middle, a couple of chests and a small hinged box litter the stage.

Some of audience fan themselves while others grab a last and desperate look at their phones before the performance begins.

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Pondling’s Writer/Actor and award winning Genevieve Hulme-Beaman arrives out on stage. Her character is about twelve years old whose dark soul boils with a brutal confidence which evaporates when it has to leave the confines of her own psyche.

For the next 60 minutes she brings the audience through a monologue which is creepy, emotionally unbalanced, with humour that is black and sticky, and wonderfully captivating. She is utterly believable and at once scary and pathetic.

It didn’t help that a member of the audience nervously took on the role of unnecessary laughter pace-setter before Genieveve had finished her first line. But it wasn’t long before the rest of the audience were drowning her out.

Ms. Hulme-Beaman was not fazed as she threw us creepy stares and swung into so many different emotional states a mood ring would have looked like a rainbow. She captures the state of a deeply troubled tween on the verge of teenage years to a frightening degree. Her temperament swings from the simplicity of girlhood in one moment to a skewed idea of womanhood the next and all sprinkled with a thick layer of psychotic scary dust.

8/10

Directed by Paul Meade of Guna Nua Theatre  and written and performed by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in The Project Arts Centre.

Upcoming Performances

The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Film Review


The growing colony of genetically enhanced apes is pitted against the human survivors of the virus which has more than decimated the earth’s population.

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Shouldn’t the ‘Rise’ have come after the ‘Dawn’? In my book events like the Sun rising, an idea, or any urge you may happen to have will have a dawn before they begin to rise. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

I was expecting an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ or ‘Back to the Future II’ sort of darkness from ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ and it delivered this to a point but, disappointingly, only to a point. The first half an hour is gripping and had me on the edge of my seat. But before I knew it I has slumped back, weighed down by a sudden rush of sentimentality – an emotion I did not expect too much of in this chapter.

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It is not necessary to have seen the first film in the Apes franchise to appreciate the events in this chapter as they fill you in with a now tried and trusted ‘news’ montage in the opening scene. You will, however, have to put up with subtitles in the first half of the film because the apes use a combination of sign language, grunts and the odd English word to communicate. Personally subtitles don’t bother me and the story does warrant the as the apes only begin to speak more when faced with the human survivors.

The look and feel of the film is excellent. The home of the ape colony and their embryonic evolution with regard to hunting and family values is treated with equal amounts of thrilling and touching respect. The human characters are as two dimensional as they were in the first episode but I feel this is a choice rather than a weakness as this, after all, is the story of the Apes. Without giving too much away the overgrown look of San Francisco reminds me of ‘I am Legend’ in the slick detail they provide.

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The battle scenes are tense and the rising politics in the ape colony are believable as the different apes have different motivations about how humans should be treated. The filmmakers have infused the apes politics with the hallmarks of the Roman Empire far beyond the main character’s name of Caesar.

But all this does not help that about an hour of the film is achingly slow and sentimental. It is as if they had an hour of plot and then split it in half and filled it with rice cakes. Whatever they have planned for the next instalment they should have dumped 50% of the sentimental parts here and taken the first half an hour of the next movie’s plot and used it in this one.

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While overall it disappointed me the final sequence leaves you wanting more and so it manages to entertain by the skin of its grubby fingernails. I will be in the cinema for the first day of the final part (whatever they decide to call it, “The Brunch of the Planet of the Apes” perhaps) to see how they conclude this reboot.

6/10

In cinemas now!

 

Edge of Tomorrow – Film Review


Preview screening thanks to IMC Cinemas

Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise) is an advertising executive turned military PR man who, after an act of insubordination, is sent directly to the front-line in a war against the Mimics, alien invaders, who have attacked the Earth. Here he becomes stuck in a time loop.

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O.k. he does actually have a character name but they are all beginning to blur. The problem with Tom Cruise movies is that he usually wields more power than anyone else on the production. This works both for the movies he is involved in but also against them. He brings values to most areas of his movies that are rarely seen in such abundance on other sets with the exception of plot and character development. Here the productions seem to rely on the Tom Cruise factor which will bring audiences to the cinema. For example I find his sci-fi movies flat (with the exception of Minority Report where he was matched with the power wielding skills of Spielberg).

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Edge of Tomorrow is both slick and silly.  If you can forgive 1) a messy “time loop“ plot, something to do with blood and the Omega (brain) Mimic (the aliens), 2) the aliens themselves who, beyond being told that they Mimic human behaviour, just seem to thrash around like giant, wild, multi-tentacled, vortex-mouthed insects on a killing spree and 3) the ‘romantic’ plot which seems to have been hammered in with a wooden clog this… movie is actually a bit of fun.

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Once the time loop is in action and Tom is having his Groundhog Day on the beaches in France where the frontline action takes place (an odd hat tip to the Normandy landings?) the movie is entertaining and funny. The multiple time loops could have become boring but instead it is used to good comic effect as we see certain scenes for the first time but soon realise that Tom is wearily going through the paces. Cruise is not his usual ‘top of his game’ character in this movie. He is thrown in at the deep end with a good supporting cast all willing him to fail. Brendan Gleeson plays a tough General, Bill Paxton is perfect as an equally hard-nosed platoon leader and Emily Blunt provides the love interest as a War Hero.

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Of course many science fiction fans will be interested in the suit of armour he wears. In movie terms it is at once a beefed up version of suits we have seen in the Alien franchise and Elysium. While not being as powerful as the ones seen in Avatar it still holds an impressive and refreshingly limited amount of firepower. In reality I am told (with authority) that is looks very like the suits currently being developed by Ekso Bionics in the U.S.

Visually it is worth a trip to the cinema and if you think you might be disappointed try an afternoon show that won’t be as expensive!

7/10

Edge of Tomorrow opens in Irish Cinemas on 30th May

Wonder by R. J. Palacio – Book Review


Augustus Pullman was born with a combination of genetic abnormalities which gave him a severely distorted face. He has been home-schooled and understandably pampered by his family for the first ten years of his life. But this year is going to be different.

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Everybody feels like an outsider at one stage in their lives and Palacio puts this feeling under the microscope through August (Auggie) Pullman’s story of his first year in a proper school. Told from several perspectives she covers many themes that touch on all our lives, isolation, bullying, jealousy, family stresses, friendships and the misunderstandings that all make up the human package.

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Choosing a main character whose face is so misshapen and giving him a self-effacing sense of humour and a clear sense of his own self-worth makes the reader feel guilty at memories of anytime in our lives when we have sneaked a peak or reacted unfavourable to anyone we have encountered who might be physically different to ourselves.

Palacio does not just give justice to Auggie’s daily battles but she also gives a voice to those around him and the ripple effect that spreads through his family and friends.

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I laughed, cried, cringed, felt the aforementioned guilt, was scared and rooted for Auggie while reading his story. In the end I have the author to thank for bringing me on this touching journey.

Palacio has placed herself firmly on a bookshelf beside The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime, Holes and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas with her debut 2011 novel Wonder. It doesn’t matter that this book was aimed at 8-12 year olds because anyone who remembers feeling lost as a child whether it was in school or within your own circle of friends will be able to relate.

It deserves all the awards it has already received got and more.

10/10