The Lobster (2015)

 

This is Yorgos Lanthimos’s (Alps, 2102), first English language film. Lobster finds us in a European setting, which does not specify where exactly, in a time set as the near future. It is a world not unlike ours except for a couple of very specific differences. In our heroes’ world single life is not permitted, once you are of age you are expected to find a mate, if through life your mate dies or leaves you, you are expected to find another partner. If you are found not to have a partner, you are sent to an establishment to try find one and so survive. If after the end of your stay, you are unsuccessful, you are turned in to an animal of your choice to live out your days transformed into whatever creature you pick.

And so it is that David (Colin Farrell, Fright Night, 2011    ) is introduced to us. After his wife leaving him, he now has to go and find a new partner over the next 45 days, or turn in to the animal of his choice.  David is a quiet, meek but thinking person, watching what is happening and trying to adapt to get through the experience. This is not a conventional movie, it is deliberate, paced and low key. Even the weather is dull and uninviting, but that all comes together to give us something we can perhaps relate to, the ordinariness of the surroundings, contrasts with the absurdity of the human activity.

As the days go on, many of the guests either was out and disappear or keep working to find a partner they are matched with. The “Hotel” runs a series of activities to help this, including hunting of loners (with darts) who are not up to the mark. Society is geared to couples; even parts of the hotel are off-limits to single people.  It is against this background that he begins to spend some time with some of the other guests in particular as they each try to cope or succeed in finding a partner.

As the days progress, David meets and begins to get to know a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz, Definitely Maybe, 2008). He also sees what his fellow guests are doing to survive and teams up and watches them. Ben Whishaw (Perfume, 2006) is the Limping Man, a character not beyond manipulating the situation to his needs, a lesson David quickly learns.  All of the characters are identified by their characteristics, their meekness, short-sightedness, limps or lisps.

Lisping Man, (John C. Reilly, Tale of Tales, 2015) provides us with that perfect foil to Farrell’s David. David is quiet and introspective, Lisping man is open and chatty, easily befriending such as David or Limping man. Emotions are high, as the stakes are and from time to time emotions flair, none better than the fight between Farrell and Reilly’s characters during the archery session.

The humour is very, much situational and dark, as much a reflection on our own society and the pressures we place ourselves under, issues such as our place in life, esteem, partnerships, human understanding.  The style is deliberate, dystopic and resembling something like the down-trodden masses we see in films like 1984 (Michael Radford, 1984).  The scenes resembling “Blind Date” showing the couples who have joined together.

It is certainly a thought provoking and dark movie which will have you questioning whether or not you want to actually watch it for the first few minutes, but then you find yourself engaged in it, willing the characters along, sharing the highs and lows  and asking yourself some serious questions about society.

A number of people will be thinking about watching this film because Colin Farrell is in it (from a sex-symbol)  perspective, this is not an action movie, it is a very cerebral one, and guess what, it is the type of role which he is best suited for. He cut his teeth in TV drama, and for a reason, he is a very capable dramatic actor, as are Reilly,  Weisz, Whishaw and many of the supporting cast. This is an excellent movie once you tune in to it.

Sing Street (2016)

 

I’ve been thinking about how to open this one, would l describe the film as a “coming of age” movie or one about a boy forming a band to impress a girl. It is those but not specifically, and to simply describe the film as one or the other of them would be to do it an injustice.  John Carney (Once, 2007) gives us a movie about identity, who we are, who we think we are and who we dream of being. It is 1985 and our young  hero Conor is going through some changes, though not ones of his liking or making.  Coming from a middle class background, the family is in financial trouble, due to work drying up for the parents and sacrifices have to be made. One of those sacrifices is Conor’s schooling as he is taken from a private school and dropped in Sing Street Christian Brothers School (a public school).sing

Here we have the middle class boy, with his middle class background suddenly in the working class school, without even the correct colour shoes. This brings him into contact with Br. Baxter (Don Waverly (Ondine, 2009) The Christian Brother with a not very Christian attitude. Another who is not who he seems. Br. Baxter becomes Conor’s nemesis, as they struggle over shoe colours, hair dye and make-up. To its credit, Carney manages to avoid dropping the movie into the quagmire of sexual scandal, though hints at it, the Christian Brothers were not going to escape completely from the sins of their past.

Against all of these struggles in life Conor, practically on his first day in school, noticed a girl, Raphine (Lucy Boynton, Ballet Shoes, 2007) sitting nearby on her doorstep, he immediately falls for her. And as with many lads of his age, he immediately begins to woe her. She’s out of his league, so in an attempt to impress he first repeats some musical trivia his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor, Glassland, 2014) shared only the night before and then announces he has a band and would she like to be involved. Indeed Brendan, with his own issues, still manages to ensure Conor has all the brotherly advice needed to get through life and get the girl of his dreams.

What follows is a quest by Conor to quickly find a group of guys he can call a band.  He actually manages to do this without any major issue. Indeed the band aspect of the film is straight forward and of no major issue. As part of his band, Conor  tells her, they are going to make a video, if she , the model she claims to be (almost…)would like to be in it. She reluctantly agrees to give the video some weight by appearing in it. What follows is a group of young boys trying to pull together a mid-80s new wave music video, with all the situational gags possible. Mark McKenna, Ben Carolan and Percy Chamburuka, all deserve mention as his fellow band members.

And so through the usual trial the boys manage to get it together enough to film the video, which is pure new-waveish, 1980’s punk-rock. All of this initial band success is against a personal background that sees the family split up as their parents are separating and the children are being dispatched to a new apartment with their farther (Aiden Gillen, Calvary 2014), While his mother ( Maria Doyle-Kennedy (Jupiter Ascending, 2014) moves in with her new boyfriend no one is happy about that arrangement. Away from his music, he turns to his older brother for advice on everything from relationships, music to life in general.  We go on to learn how his would-be model girlfriend is a lot more fragile than made out to be.

In school the band decides to play in a school event coming up, this provides the scene for their first public performance and also a chance to make a statement of rebellion against Br. Baxter and the school.  Another of those people who is not who or what they seem is the school bully, Barry, played by Ian Kenny who is from a hard home and a life of domestic violence, however when it comes to being the tough-guy in school, young Barry is good at scaring people, but not very good at seeing threats through and Conor notices this, ultimately asking Barry to be their roadie, something he happily agrees to, he has a purpose.

As this quest for identity and discovery develops it does so against the social backdrop of 80s Ireland and emigration.  Conor slowly realises his only hope for happiness is to leave his home, Dublin and Ireland and head to  London (with nothing). Supporting Raphine through her own struggles, they embark together for London with the help of his Brother, using his late-grandfather’s boat…

8/10 sit back and enjoy the trip in to the past.

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 an 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. This is dark in its subject matter but the cinematography and sharp lines place this movie in the first league.

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

9/10

Youth (2015)

 

Some directors take a life-time to get established, however Paulo Sorrentino (Thyouth-2015_e Great Beauty 2013), has done this in less than half a dozen films. Those not used to Sorrentino’s works might take a little while to get into this movie, but when you do, it will reward you.   The movie is set around an elderly Maestro, played by Michael Caine (Get Carter, 1971) who while trying to enjoy a holiday in an upmarket Spa-hotel in the Alps with his daughter and best friend (Mick Boyle, played by Harvey Keitel (Thelma & Louise, 1991)), who is trying to write his final masterpiece screenplay). Despite the tranquil setting (with camera-work to match) there is an underlying tension, the Maestro’s daughter is unhappy with the treatment of her mother by her father, who he last visited 20 years ago (was it her grave he visited?).

Much of the film is made up of the Maestro and Boyle working through their issues, usually together, while not allowing the tranquillity of the surroundings to be interrupted.  Their time at the hotel is enlivened (relatively speaking) by a young actor, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, 2006) also staying in the hotel as he prepares for his next role, keeping mostly to himself, and not imposing himself on any of the guests.

Behind all this, pressure is being put on the Maestro to perform his most famous piece of music as part of a celebration of the Queen’s birthday, the request is personal from the Royal family and not just some producer trying to fill an event programme. Boyle meanwhile is working with his writing staff on what could be his last great screenplay. Added to this is the fact that the Maestro’s daughter is married to Boyle’s son, however they are splitting up due to his infidelities, both fathers show their displeasure with the young man.

As the movie progresses with the heroes working through the issues, the viewer is drawn in by the musicality of the presentation, the visual aspects are stunning and the acting perfectly levelled for the work in question. I could go into detail on the plot and ruin the movie, suffice it to say, this is a movie to sit-back watch and enjoy. Sorrentino’s own The Great Beauty (2013) or Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) would be similar to this one.

Don’t be fooled by the slow/serene start, this movie grips you from the start and walks you along the Alpine storyline right to the end. Each of the leading cast gives the type of performance we’ve come to expect from each of them. Well worth experiencing.

Score 4/5

 

 

Spring

Written and directed by Justin Benson (resolution, 2012) , with additional co-direction by Aaron Moorhead (ditto), this is one of the more different movies you will view in a while. This is a film which reward you for sticking with it. It has been described by some as a little weird, I would npot go that far, but it certainly has echoes of HP Lovecraft.

The film revolves around Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci, Evil Dead, 2013) who is having a fairly depressing life back home in theUS. His mother has just died after a long illness and on top of that he has just lost his job as a chef in a bar as a result of a fight. Not knowing what to do withhimself and fearing arrest, he decides to leave and settles on Italy as a destination.

He quickly meets two other backpackers and falls in with them as they spend time around the Naples area. It is during one evening with them that he meets a mysterious woman, (Nadia Hilker München 7, 2013) who toys with his affections. Evan meanwhile decides to stay for a while as the other continue on their tour. He finds a place to stay with an equally enigmatic old farmer (Francesco Carnutti, The Order 2003)He eventually tracks down and wins over the hand of the woman in question.

As their relationship progresses, there are certain restrictions and mysteries. Just as we are putting the pieces together Benson throws us just enough to answer the immediate questions. The “love affair” element is not in and of itself sufficient to keep our interest, so the additional mysterious slant adds to the story. Without giving any plot lines away, there is an interesting twist to the woman’s secret which will impact on their future time together.

As the movie progresses, the focus becomes more on the future rather than the past or present and the dark secrets associated with both.

One drawback is the stereo-typical presentation of rural Italy, I watched this film with an Italian friend (by coincidence) and he was a little put out by this usual practice ( I had to point out how this is also done with regard to Irish based films, sadly)

As the end nears and the horror element shows itself the movie continues at the same pace, forcing us to investigate more, what is happening? The movie ends with a big question hanging over them both. Will somebody have to sacrifice a life? Just how much is love worth.

This is not the fastest movie in the world and you will not have to suffer too much bloody carnage, but you still find yourself being brought along by this original story. The direction is a little rough in places but over all a solid *** production.

Poitín, 1977

Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.

Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.

By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.

When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.

What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.

A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.

It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.

9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

While Mark Millar (Kick Ass, 2010) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, 2009) gave us the original comic book, Jane Goldman (Stardust, 2007) and Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, 2011) gave us the screenplay for this movie. Vaughn also directed it.

This is an homage rather than a rip-off of the James Bond franchise. This is not just a cheap parody, it stands up as a spy-movie in its own right. As we know from James Bond, the world is full of secret evil organisations all vying for world domination but what we have here is a highly secret group of good guys who ensure the world’s governments can act. That said one might also comment on it being a parody of the poor guy/gal does good movie, whether My fair Lady (1964) or Pretty Woman, (1990).

About 17 years ago a young agent on the verge of completing his training was killed in action. He was Killed because agent Harry Hart, better known by his service codename “Galahad” (Colin Firth, The Railway Man, 2013) missed a trap. Now today that agent’s son is in a some trouble at home. Many years ago the agent’s widow was given a medal with a number on it and told to ring the number if there was an issue. Today in a police cell, the son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Testament of Youth, 2014) rings the number and almost immediately things happen. Now rescued Galahad suggest that the young Eggsy joins their organisation, he agrees.   The issue here however is , Eggsy’s social class, he is working class, most of the other agents are members of the aristocracy, for reasons best explained in the film.

All of this goes on against the background of mysterious dealings and missing people all somehow associated with billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson, Django Unchained, 2012), as the movie moves along both groups learn more about each other, the Kingsman agents striving to foil Valentine. Eggsy begins his training with his fellow intake, only to fail at the last hurdle, however as with any of these films that becomes a minor technicality and our hero goes on to save the day. The humour both through the situations and the script itself, with Galahad and Valentine musing about old “fun” spy movies.

The plot will not win any prizes for originality, but who cares. One of the reasons the film works is its speed, there is not a scene in the movie which should not be there, there is absolutely no padding. The support cast is first class, indeed we have Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, 2014) playing a “Q” type character, generally managing the secret agents as and their training progresses. I am still getting used to Strong playing good guys., while Sir Michael Caine (Interstellar, 2014) take the role of the head of Kingsman.

One other person who should be mentioned is Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episode IV – a New Hope, 1977) who has the opening scene as Professor James Arnold, managing to set the tone for the film to come.Egerton, gives an excellent performance as the young man making the transition from drifting youngster to a highly trained agent. I could discuss the plot, but in reality the plot is secondary, we know from the start how the movie is going to go, the entertainment is in how they go to where they end-up. This is a smart movie which stands on its own as well as a parody of previous productions. I walked away wanting to check if there is material for a sequel, hopefully. It works as a spy-movie, a comedy and general all-round entertainment.

Another **** movie.