Calvary

Written and directed by John Michael Mc Donagh, this is the second of a loosely based trilogy. The subject matter is not connected, rather locations associated with McDonagh’s background. The first installment was “The Guard” (2011). Described as a black comedy, it might be better described Dark thriller with a touch of dark humour thrown in.

Although described as “dark” this is a very entertaining movie, which from the start drags in the viewer and keeps us alongside to the very end. Brendan Gleeson’s character is that of Father James, the local parish priest in a small rural parish in Sligo. Boarding the coast, there are some fantastic backdrops (having spent two years living in the area, I can say the scenery is every bit as photographed for the film. Fr. James we learn came to the Priesthood later in life, after his wife died. As with any normal person, he has his daemons, he is open about his hard drinking ways in the past, now he controls his life and habits. As “normal” as he is, the villagers, his parish, are what can best be described as an “odd bunch”.

The film opens in confession, here we learn that one of his parishioners was abuse as a child by a priest. In the parishioner’s quest for vengeance, he has decided to kill a priest, not just any priest, but a good priest, someone people will notice. He is told he has just over a week to live, they even make an appointment for the following Sunday on the beach. We are not clear if he actually knows who his killer is. Following a discussion with his less than helpful Bishop (David McSavage), the Bishop feels that the confession was not valid, as absolution was not present and so he should report the issue.

Instead Fr. James uses the week to put his house in order and try find a way to stop what is going to happen. In to the mix comes his adult daughter (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Homes, 2009), recovering from a suicide attempt. We see through her that his relationship with her has been strained over time and in deed still shows some stress marks but they know they have something to work out and so do. They treat each other as adults.

Over the coming days, we see Fr. James deal with his parishioners, the wife beaten by her lover, the lover who has no remorse and even the cuckolded husband, who is quite happy for his wife to have an affair, as it takes the pressure off him and basically they can get on with life. As part of his ministering to his flock he visits an old American writer who is living in a remote area accessible only by boat. While bringing the old writer his messages, he makes a request for a gun (Walter PPK). After some banter Fr. James says he will try and see what he can do. In the course of the next day he pays a visit to the local Police Inspector, to borrow a gun. The inspector is at home, with a male prostitute. Fr. James is not fazed by this or the prostitute’s behaviour. The prostitute is played by Owen Sharpe, I mention this because of his recent role in “’71” playing the young IRA killer, a completely different role, both done well.

As the week goes on, he has to deal with his curate, Fr. Leary (David Wilmot, Vikings 2013) who is not exactly the caring type, more concerned with image rather than substance. Fr. James is rather blunt in his opinion of him as a priest. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of Fr. James is his bluntness. When we see him with the financier on the edge of arrest (Dylan Moran, Black Books, 2000) who is trying to put things right (in his own way). Fr. Leary fawns to Moran’s character, while Fr. James just basically sees through the acts and gets down to business naming a figure and looking for the check.

As the week goes on, we start to see things taking a chilling turn, with his local church being burnt down and even his pet dog killed, we are not told who is responsible for these acts. We see the tensions mount to breaking point, while we also see moments of clam and belief, no more so that the French couple of holiday who were involved in a car crash, the husband is killed, while the wife escapes unhurt, we see in her a person of Faith and in so doing also see his Faith, it is real to him.

He has no airs and graces, when one of the village odd-balls, Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott, Love/Hate 2010-2014) sees Fr. James in church to ask for his advice regarding women; the conversation turns surreal. He basically has urges, possibly to violence , to control these urges he has decided to join the army, which he is convinced is full of psychopaths anyway and so should be a natural home for himself, Fr. James attempts to bring him back to reality by suggesting he read certain magazines, only to have milo say he has already tried them. What we see is a man casting no judgements and genuinely trying to help. His chats with the atheist (and cynical ) doctor, (Aidan Gillen, Love/Hate 2010-2013) also give us an insight to his view on life and his outlook on things in general, while at the same time not forcing a believe or rationalisation on the other person.

In dealing with his parishioners and even his daughter (and by extension himself) we do see a “good Priest”. Fr. James’s character is no Saint, he has his flaws and weaknesses like any person. He is essentially a person who is trying to help is parishioners without overstepping. However the various scenarios thrown up by the locals work at both levels, firstly allowing for a local and immediate (personal response) but also causing us to see the reaction of a kind and compassionate man, even if one who does not suffer fools to gladly.

Among all of the local community there is one who stands out, the altar boy, Mícheál (Mícheál Óg Lane, the Guard, 2011) he stands out for one reason, essentially he has reprised his role in The Guard, as a comic foil for Gleeson. This time it is a little more subtle but equally as good.

This movie shifts to a climax which can only end one of two ways, Fr. James alive or dead. A good man alive or dead. What we saw was a week in the life of a small parish, all seemingly tranquil and calm while below the surface there is violence, loneliness, suffering and pain and only one man has an idea as to what extent the people of the village are suffering in their various ways, just as he is dealing with his own daemons.

It is felt Gleeson might get an Oscar nomination for this role, he deserves it

9/10

Untouchable (Les Intouchables)

This is the film the French are really proud of, and rightly so.  Some critics have panned this movie as overly safe, and not challenging the issues and stereotypes that need to be challenged. It ignored them, or dealt with them in a way that said we do not consider this a problem.  American critics have been overly sensitive to the race issue; poor black man working for a rich white man. The Parisians would probably see it as a guy on benefit, needing to have a paper signed who ends up with the job he did not expect.This movie is simply about two people who despite, or perhaps because of their differences become friends.

We should not look for issues, where there are none. Indeed, I think central to this movie is the very noble though that, we as humans are all to be treated with the same respect regardless of colour, race, wealth, background.  Sure we see people from different backgrounds trying to adjust to the lives they currently live, but we see them succeeding.

T his is not a movie which sets out to challenge us and force us to live good and decent lives being nice to all of those about us.  This is a movie about some fundamentally decent people who happen to hit off a mutually beneficial friendship which provides us with a very rewarding movie along the way.

In many ways this is a road movie as out two heroes Driss (Omar Sy, Micmacs 2009- Sy won France’s César Award for Best Actor, 2011, ahead of Jean Dujardin in the Artist – see below) and Philippe (François Cluzet, Tell No One, 2006)  an extremely rich  quadriplegic who needs a new carer.  Philippe is restless and sees something, a spark, in Driss which intrigues him.  Philippe’s other staff eventually warm to Driss and friendships are formed when all realise he has his employers best interests at heart.  Never trained as a carer there are moments of great humour as his new duties unfold.  As with his discovery of his living quarters, the luxury contrasts with the crowded squalor from which he came.

This movie does not set out to change the world. If it has a perceived failing it is that it may lead some people to think that was its aim. However if you sit back and let the journey unfold, travel with them you will be rewarded with some great urban cinematography as well as great areal gliding shots.

This movie is nothing more than a well made light hearted comedy, there are no hidden agendas. It is based, so the credits say on a true story. This I can believe because only a true story of two people crossing paths could generate a further story with no particular aim other than to retell the history of their relationship.

The use of genuine situational comedy is excellent we are almost in tears looking at scenes, which in another context would never have come near provoking a laugh. Driss’s thoughts on modern art, together with his attempts to engage with the same are smartly used to culminate in a second joke, Philippe is able to poke fun at his society friends and in the course of events do the right thing.

Rating 9/10, it is not perfect, after all there were a couple of shots where Sy, was hanging off the dolly-grip, some careful editing might have avoided them, also, a slight pet hate – the sub-titles should actually translate what was being said rather than add a particular English (or American ) turn of phrase. The context of the wording does not always works ( I say does not always work, I only noticed the differences a few times and it only jarred once.

Go see this movie – no ifs, buts, ands or maybes, just go and watch it, enjoy it. This movie is France’s second highest ever grossing film and is the French nomination for Best Foreign Film at next year’s Oscars; there is a reason for these two events.

The Watch

I’m not sure why I’m even bothering to write anything about this movie. It just does not work. I’ve never been a great fan of American situational comedy which all too often depends of the farcical and stupid to get a laugh.

This is a movie which just does not work for me. It is in some ways similar to Grabbers (see below) in that it involves a group of locals trying to defend their home from an alien invasion. That is where the comparison ends. The Watch is at the polar opposite  end of the scale to Grabbers. Don’t bother with it.  When I started this blog I ranted about W.E., the horror that Ms. Madonna inflicted on us. I said then it was technically one of the worst movies I had ever seen. Well, The Watch is not far behind, it just did not work.

Akiva Schaffer (Saturday Night Live, 2005-2011)  directed this movie and his lack of experience shows. The story evolves around small town store manager Evan, (Ben Stiller, Zoolander, 2001) forming a neighbourhood watch. The only takers are a rag-bag bunch of; Bob, the family guy (Vince Vaughan, Couples Retreat, 2009); Franklin, the want-to-be GI Joe (Jonah Hill, Moneyball, 2011) and Jamarcus the English IT guy…in every sense, ( The IT Crowd, 2006-).

After the usual male bonding and compensatory attempts at humour the team go out on patrol and quickly realise something is wrong. People are dying and going missing and Evan’s super-store seems to the centre of all that is happening. After more stupidity they eventually start to fight the aliens and ultimately of course win – sorry if I spoiled the ending. It seems that rather than try to find humour in the fight with the aliens the writers put in a load of male insecurity  and team building jokes which, all too regularly, seem like they are there just to fill time.

The supporting cast ranges from the usual fodder to the down-right stupid.  his movie is not funny, the attempts at humour are forced and often badly delivered. There is big difference between scripting a 3 or 5 minute comedy sketch and directing a 90+ minute feature.  This movie feels like the writers, who for the sake of their careers, I won’t name, came up one night with the outline of a movie and then as they had ideas filled in the missing bits over the next few days or weeks as they had a beer or two.

Rating 4/10 and I’m not even sure why I am being so generous. This movie is simply not good, W.E. was a vicious assault on the brain. Some people like the Stiller brand on anarchistic, lowest common denominator humour, not me.  Watch this at your own risk and remember it is time you will never get back. Or maybe this was a sketch which grew legs, that was the  nasty monster here.

Grabbers

Okay, as soon as I saw reference to this movie at the Galway Film Fleadh, I was hooked. This movie has been described as a B-movie comedy. “B-movie” does not mean bad, just that it does not have studio millions behind it. This is a comedy and as you probably know by now, I like my comedy to be properly constructed, following ancient rules, this movie does that, indeed following rules and convention is something director Jon Wright (Tormented, 2009) and newcomer to feature length work, writer Kevin Lehane do throughout the movie.

I’m going to get the obvious connections out of the way; Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990); this is very much in the same style but probably more funny.  It is probably more in line with Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007) with the community feel to the ongoing story. I mentioned rules earlier and Wright seems to follow very closely some Irish rules of thumb when it comes to comedy. 1) an outside in the village, usually a slightly eccentric Englishman or German such as the character of the General (Sam Harris) in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) or Major Yates himself (Peter Bowles) in The Irish RM (1983). The Irish RM brings us to the second necessary character – the town drunk who also happens to be quite smart and more than capable of coming out well from any situation, we see this with the Character of Slipper, played by Niall Tobin is the series. Such a  character might be described (using the Hiberno-English vernacular) as a “cute whore” which is a cunning but good natured person.  Another movie which comes to mind is The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) given the sense of isolation.

Being so formulaic can often destroy a movie as the team concentrate on the formulae and not the heart and soul of the movie, here however they capture the comic essence needed, indeed the casting was perfect as soon as you saw the actors in a number of cases you knew what you were in for.

Headed by Richard Coyle (Going Postal 2010) playing Garda Ciarán O’Shea with Ruth Bradley (Love/Hate, 2011) playing the Garda sent in to support O’Shea while the sergeant is on vacation. The pair seem totally mismatched and polar opposites. As strange things begin to happen such as whales washing up on shore, they meet up with the English marine biologist working on the island, Dr. Adam Smith (Russell Tovey, Being Human, 2008) who brilliantly plays the reserved and very proper scientist trying to do things the right way. SO here is the village outside needed by the “rules”. The team deserve credit for knowing just how far to take a character such as Smith, stopping short of cliché.  Pretty soon people start to go missing and alien  creatures start to appear.

One is captured by the town drunk/small time fisherman and general smart-arse (again using the H-E vernacular) played brilliantly by Lalor Roddy (Game of Thrones, 2011). An experienced stage and screen actor he know exactly what was needed. I could continue with the rest of the support cast , but sufficient to say they were all first class. I should also give a mention to the excellent CGI, evidence of the work that can be done on a budget.

The plot, in short is; alien creatures crash in to the sea just off the island and quickly make their way ashore. Strange things start to happen and people begin disappearing. Eventually one of the octopus like alien creatures is captured and killed (possibly). This bring more trouble in the shape of the alien’s (far, far larger female partner). Ultimately our heroes and the rest of the village have to make a stand in the village pub (probably another rule there) for reasons most enjoyably left to the movie to explain. Here they battle to save the community, the island and of course all mankind. The battle tactics make the movie.

I’ve avoid reference to The Guard (John-Michael McDonagh, 2011) so far, so it is about time I did the inevitable. I enjoyed The Guard, I really enjoyed Grabbers. Wright has placed the McDonagh brothers on notice. In short this movie is Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-98) meets Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and as good as either of them.

A lesser effort would have been wholly predicable, this was not. This is The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) as a full comedy.

Rating 9/10, I look forward to more work from this team.

Brave

The trouble with being a Disney/Pixar creation is that a lot is expected of the output.  Some critics have said this movie is light on plot while others have said some of the background animation is too good…too good! well that’s all as may be. The truth in my opinion, is that they have again produced a kids’ movie suitable for adults. The story line will appeal to kids while keeping adults entertained, the script will appeal to adults while keeping kids entertained.  I saw this movie with two friends, both admitted to watery eyes at various stages during the movie, me, I laughed a lot.

So what about the movie? It is based on a Scottish king Fergus (Billy Connolly, Mrs. Brown, 1997) with a proud and correct queen; Elinor (Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day, 1993) , a rather willful 16 princess; Merida (Kelly MacDonald, Intermission, 2003). The opening scenes are of the family picnicking celebrating a young Merida’s birthday, only to have an infamous bear attack.  The movie then moves to about 10 years later, the King as it turns out, lost a leg in the attack, burt has gained many years of story telling embellishing what happened on that day. There are also the three young princes. These are a interesting plot tool, providing some of the best humour and convenient plot devices when needed.  Merida is now 16 and must have a husband found for her from amoung the clans, the clans arive at the castle to win her hand, she chooses an archery competition, which she then enters and well wins. All kinds of chaos ensue and ultimately Merida runs away after arquing with her mother and ends up in the cottage of a wood-turning witch (Julie Walters, Mo 2010) who gives the girl a spell to change here mother. THe spell is administered and it does change her mother; into a bear.

What follows is a voyage of Merida finding a solution, growing closer to her mother and ultimately saving the day (it is Disney after all). There are some excellent comedic moments scattered throughout. Was the plot suitable for adults? Yes, it was not overly taxing but highly entertaining. The overall movie works with some speed and manages not to sag in the middle, end result we were kept entertained till the end. The soundtrack is also quite good, I might have to look into a CD

This is a cartoon aimed at kids but with adults firmly in mind.  There are a couple of kilt jokes which while predicted were well executed.  The scenes in the great hall firstly where the suitors are introduced and later when all are fighting are both excellently executed and quite funny, little things like the characterisation of Fergus’ hounds were much appreciated.

Rating 8/10, nothing is perfect – for the first few minutes every time I heard the princess’s name being called I was put in mind of a certain piece of French but; C’est la vie!

The Chef (Comme un Chef)

The Chef, written and directed by Daniel Cohen (Les Deux Mondes 2007) who is better known as an actor has acquitted himself well here. This is probably best described as a romantic comedy in the sense of a light nice story line regarding the following of one’s dreams and aspirations; there is at least one marriage proposal, but that’s only in support of the overall story.

What we have in this movie is a young self-trained chef “jacky Bonnot” ( Michaël Youn, Les 11 Comandements, 2004) who cannot keep down a steady job because his standards are too high and as such often takes offence at the eating habits of his customers when they order the wrong wine or side accompaniment to the main dish. With a child on the way and a large overdraft he needs to find regular work, his girlfriend manages to arrange a six month contract painting windows at an upmarket retirement home.

Meanwhile Alexandre Legarde (Jean Reno) is a multiple starred chef in the restaurant holding his name. The only problem is that he no longer owns the establishment, having sold it to in international restaurant chain. The chain wants Legarde to modernise his menu and include a selection of  modern gastro dishes which he is totally against.  The powers are bringing in a new English chef to provide a modern ambience . With only a matter of days before he has to launch his spring menu the pressure is on – can he keep his stars and reputation.

Circumstances bring the two chefs together at the retirement home where Legarde is visiting his old mentor who also happens to be the father of the owner of the restaurant chain now in command. Jacky has struck-up a friendship with the home’s chefs and they have tried some of his recipe suggestions, one of those recipes is one developed by Legarde some years previously but with some slight modifications which actually work. Legarde offers his the job as his deputy immediately ( the company owning his establishment has offered his deputies head chef roles in restaurants around the world which they obviously took, leaving him short key staff)

I’m trying not to give too much away here, as it is one of those movies which just swims along and it is best if you just follow the current with it. The two men  start working together, along the way they must save relationships, create the new menu, keep the restaurant out of the English chef’s hands and keep their sanity.

The long awaited/feared arrives and a menu is presented; but does it work? Watch and find out.

Reno is one of those actors who can turn his hands to different  characters from hard, in-control assassins, police investigators  to hapless husbands. Best known internationally for his roles in productions such as Leon (1994), Ronin (1998)  or Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières Pourpres, 2000), I would consider Roseanna’s Grave (1997)  as one of my favourite of his roles.

Michaël Youn who plays Jacky is a well known comedian in France and his talent shows. Typical of what I think is a very French way the comic hero is almost manic with his straight man being calm and solid but no less flawed and open to the help of the junior partner. Such is the nature of this movie that you know the ending almost from the start, you know it is going to be a happy ending, the only question is how do they make it happen? This movie answers that question in a relaxed almost comfortable manner which brings the viewer along with the offering.

Rating = 6/10, a firm 3 star rating, it entertains as well as making you hungry, just perfect for a night in with that special somebody.

Men In Black III

The first thing that hits you is the 15 years or so of this franchise. Unlike many other which were milked to death, these have been given a chance to mature. There is more characterisation than most comedies and indeed one of the main aspects of the story line is Agent J (Will Smith) trying to get the ever so taciturn Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) to open up more. The obituary for Agent Z just about says it all…or not.

The long story short; a really bad bad guy/alien escapes from a maximum security prison on the moon. He knows how to go back in time and rewrite history, and so he does this.  Agent J realises something is wrong and persuades people of the alternate timeline.  He then has to go back and try prevent the alternate history events from happening.

Along the way we meet the usual assortment of aliens, one that stands out is Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg (Flight of the Conchords, 2007-2009) who can see multiple future events based on probabilities. He brings both character and story to the offering. The main cast Agent J, (Will Smith, Robert Neville, I am Legend 2007), Agent K, the elder (Tommy Lee Jones, Colonel Chester Philips, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011) and Josh Brolin (True Grit, Tom Chaney, 2010) all give the performances we have come to expect; we have the charged and excitable Agent J trying to force out some human expressionism from the stone faced K, only to come up against the young K. When J joins up with K he quickly realises that the younger man is more positive, optimistic and open that the older K he knows and asks “what happened you?” to no response, as the movie works to the climactic ending we eventually learn just what was that life changing event that transformed Agent K.

It should be pointed out that this is a movie that does exactly what it sets out to do, it entertains well.  One piece of the movie which stands out it Josh Brolin’s take-off of a young Agent K, it was great and produced some genuine laughs from the audience.  I saw this movie in China – 3D IMAX.

MIB is a rare thing in a franchise set, it works. This might be why the producers felt they could afford to leave so long between offerings. We now have three entertaining movies which will withstand the test of time.  Will there be a fourth? I don’t know. Will go see it if there is? Yes. So let’s wait and see, but in the meantime you might do a lot worse with your time than go see this third offering.

There are some side jokes and statements on 1969 America and these largely work well and serve to place the movie in the times.

Rating 7/10 – it is not the type of movie that would be happy with a 9 or 10 out of 10.

The Cabin in the Woods

Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written between Goddard and Joss Whedon the omens were good for CitW, a quick look at the cast list added to that.  I have to say I was sold on the movie only minutes in with Messrs Hadley (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing, 1999-2006) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, 2007) indulging in a deep and meaningful discussion on baby-proofing the home and making plans for during the week, their weekend obviously busy so no woods for them. We get enough of an insight at this early stage to see there is an experiment underway, but just what type, we have yet to determine. With the happy-go-lucky wise cracking duo of Hadley and Sitterson, you just know they are nice people…or are they?

The scene then switches to college dorm land where we see our five heroes/victims preparing for their weekend in the woods. We see the group lead by the “Jock” of the group (Chris Hemsworth, Thor, 2011), who combine to make up the five stereo-type students which usually end up in deserted cabins waiting to be killed. They are off to a newly bought cabin owned by the cousin of one of our heroes. I won’t go into the characterisation here, it has been described as shallow, personally I would consider it adequate and at the level needed for the movie. After the initial introductions to us, the group fill up the camper van and start off to the cabin, it is at this stage that the first sinister clue is given, there is something afoot. Perhaps there is a link between the experiment and the weekend away…the rest of the story  needs you to watch the movie, no spoiler here.

What Goddard (Cloverfield 2008 writer) and Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1996-2003) bring is over a decade of working together, and it shows.  It is hard to be truly original in horror movies. There is the small group trapped in the woods always the “jock”, the “blond” and various supports to counterpoint. There are also the assorted things that can go wrong when alone in a deserted cabin in the middle of nowhere.  Where our writers succeed is that this is always just one part of the overall equation, never over powering it. What we have here is Cabin Fever (Eli Roth 2002), Dead Snow, (Tommy Wirkola, 2005) and Das Experiment (Oliver Hirschbiegal 2001) and a lot of others all pushed into one production, but not in a manner which is simply a cheap plagiarism, more an homage to this work and indeed the horror  genre.

The characterisation is at the right level here, it carries the movie, not over-powers it. The horror aspect is not overly gruesome, but everything  that ever caused us to jump is there. The script is smart with the verbal and visual gags all working well.  I laughed where I was supposed to and laughed out loud.  This is a first class satire, Horror fans will enjoy it.

Rating = 9/10, nothing is perfect. It kept me entertained and I was happy to recommend it to friends.