Monthly Archives: November 2013

Frozen Film Review

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Disney’s latest animated film sees the studio take a trip back to the familiar world of fairy tales with Frozen, a coming of age story inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen.

Frozen is a tale of two sisters who are princesses in the typically idyllic Kingdom of Arendelle. Anna (Kristen Bell) is the younger sister of Elsa (Idina Menzel), who is in line to become Queen. From an early age, Elsa has had magical powers that allow her to create snow and ice and as she grows older her powers become stronger. When playing one day she accidentally injures Anna, and her parents realise that Elsa’s powers are becoming too much for her to handle. They decide to keep her confined the castle, and separated from Anna, who loses her memory of her elder sister’s magical abilities. Elsa is taught to ‘conceal, not reveal’ and keeps her abilities a secret but after their parents tragic death, Elsa’s power becomes uncontrollable and she flees to the mountains to live in a palace made of ice, leaving Arendelle in a state of perpetual winter – cue Anna’s quest to find her sister and restore order.

So far, so formulaic, but the real thrill of Frozen lies in the way it manages to play with the conventions of traditional story structure, while at the same time adhering to it.This is no doubt down to the input of Jennifer Lee, who worked on the screenplay for Wreck-It Ralph, and who is credited for the story, screenplay, and direction of Frozen alongside Chris Buick, who had previously worked with Disney on The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas. This marriage of old school and new school gives Frozen its greatest successes, but also has a part to play in less sparkling moments.

Fittingly for a story about adolescence, Frozen is at times a little clunky and confused. An elongated first act with too many glitzy musical interludes radically shifts gear and adds plenty of laughs once Anna sets off on her quest up the mountain to find Elsa. As ever, incredible animation plays a huge role and the snow laden forests and intricate levels of the ice palace are stunning. The rocky start is quickly forgiven as once over that initial hurdle, the film thankfully remains massively entertaining to the end. And it’s the latter half of the film that will really cement Frozen as a classic, as it manages to gently and cleverly subvert the fairy tale genre. It’s still all about finding your true love, but not in the ways you might expect.

Gazette Group Dublin - Frozen Review

Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 28th Nov 2013.

Saving Mr. Banks Film Review

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saving mr banks film review
This behind-the-scenes story sees Tom Hanks portray Walt Disney as he desperately tries to secure the rights to produce one of the Disney’s most iconic films, Mary Poppins. The dramatic back and forth between Disney and the author of the series of Poppins books, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in the early 60s plays out as a consistently funny, and ultimately moving reflection on the relationship between creators and their creations.
Despite the fact that Saving Mr. Banks is made by Disney, and that elements are inevitably toned down for the audience or omitted (Walt’s infamous cigarette habit which led to his death from lung cancer is alluded to with a persistent cough but never a wisp of smoke), the on-screen Walt is surprisingly human – he’s an old-fashioned schmoozer, who is well used to getting people to do what he wants. And with Mary Poppins it’s personal, he not only realises the commercial potential of the project, but making the film would also fulfil a promise he made to his daughter over a decade earlier.
But what he wants is not at all what P.L. Travers wants. After years of pursuit, Disney has finally gotten her to come to Hollywood to meet face to face. It is Thompson’s wonderful portrayal of Travers’ culture shock that provides most of the laughs. Mrs. Travers (never Pamela) is an excessively proper, milk-first type of lady with an acerbic streak that strips the veneers from the legion of incessant smiles she encounters in LA. She’s appalled by the changes that the Disney team suggest, her Mary Poppins is older, not at all coy, and she would never associate with a chimney sweep. Every line of dialogue, costume, set, and prop that Disney suggests is meticulously scrutinized by Travers, and that’s before the songs and animated penguins are even mentioned.
Regular flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in rural Australia reveal some of the rationale behind her possessiveness of the Mary Poppins story. Like Mr. Banks, Travers’ father (Colin Farrell) was a bank manager who struggled for a sense of happiness and meaning in life. Dependent on alcohol, Travers’ father is a mischievous and, in the young girls eyes, an almost magical figure that she is forced to watch degenerate. It becomes clear that the character of Mr. Banks is central to both Travers and Disney – Travers sees him as the father that she could save in a fantastical alternative to her own troubled childhood. Disney sees himself in Mr. Banks, and ultimately hopes that Mr.Bank’s on-screen redemption will fulfil a promise to his daughter and mirror a similar sense of redemption in his own life. For both Travers and Disney the relationship between the author and the character is inextricably linked the relationship between the parent and the child.
Saving Mr. Banks carries the hallmarks of a Disney story, but it does so in a nuanced and self-reflective way thanks to superb writing and acting that carries it through over two hours and will undoubtedly see it receive a lot of Oscar attention.
saving mr banksPublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 28th Nov 2013.
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Don Jon Film Review

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes on the topic of sex addiction as writer, director, and lead actor in Don Jon – a film that ekes out a unique space in the pantheon of recent addiction films, settling somewhere between the significantly darker Shame (2011) and the much lighter Thanks for Sharing (2012).

As the eponymous character, Gordon-Levitt plays a hypersexual Jersey Shorian who objectifies women, and earns his nickname by consistently being able to pull whatever woman he wants. Despite this, he can only achieve true satisfaction by watching porn. Which he does incessantly. Jon’s preference of porn over actual sex and his battle to understand and overcome this preference forms the thematic foundation for a film that sets out to explore the clash between expectation and reality.

Don Jon is a film that matures along with its characters on screen and makes a great transition from comedy to drama.It is certainly in drama where Gordon-Levitt shines as a writer, as the more dramatic second half of the film brings a depth of story that is noticeably lacking in the opening. He is also very comfortable and confident in the director’s chair. There are consistent clever plays with the central topic of addiction dotted through the structure of the film, we follow Jon on a well-worn path of locations – from the gym, to the car, to the family table, to the club, to the bedroom, to the computer, to the church – that implicitly portray the habitual patterns the character is locked into.

It’s around the family table that we get a glimpse into the root of Jon’s habits, and further explore the theme of reality and expectation through his father who is more interested in the football game than his family, his mother who is obsessed with Jon meeting ‘the one’, and his sister who spends the majority of the film texting.

While it is slow and somewhat cumbersome to start, the film picks up pace through the introduction of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who attempts to rein in the libidinous Jon and force him to stop watching porn. And again the story deepens through the introduction of Esther (Julianne Moore), who challenges Jon to confront his behaviour and the philosophy behind it. Both Johansson and Moore are brilliant in their respective roles – they also showcase Gordon-Levitt’s skill at writing conflicted female characters. Their introduction to the story drives Jon’s journey to understand himself and his desires at a deeper level, and Gordon-Levitt’s performance as an actor stays strong throughout, convincingly portraying Jon as a likeable character battling with unlikeable traits. Don Jon certainly won’t appeal to everyone. While it has the trappings of a good comedy-drama, its subject matter is confronted graphically and head on (think 120 Days of Sodom, rather than 500 Days of Summer) and undoubtedly that will be off-putting for some. But for those that persevere, it is a rich film that offers a sometimes clunky and heavy-handed, but ultimately warm-hearted commentary on the false expectations that men can have about women, and likewise, the false expectations that women can have about men.
don jon 21 nov

Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 21st Nov 2013.

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The Counsellor Film Review

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Drugs, diamonds, betrayal, and bloodshed go hand in hand in Ridley Scott’s latest film. The Counsellor is a gritty crime thriller with an all-star cast that is based on an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. In recent years McCarthy’s novels have made stellar transitions to screen (The Road, No Country for Old Men), and The Counsellor continues to explore an area prominent in his novels: the border between extremes.

Taking place between Juarez, Mexico and Texas, USA, the lines between wealth and poverty, crime and law, and need and greed are much more porous than the border that separates the locations. The disparate worlds are quickly established in the opening scenes of the film – an affluent American lawyer (Michael Fassbender) and his fiancé Laura (Penelope Cruz) between the cool white sheets of their bed. A stash of cocaine being loaded into a filthy sewerage truck somewhere in Mexico. A colourful drug baron, Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his bejewelled girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) sipping cold drinks in the hot desert as they watch their pet cheetahs hunt jack rabbits. The border between the lawful and criminal worlds disappears when Fassbender’s character (only referred to as ‘counsellor’ throughout) decides to become involved in drug running with Reiner and Malkina, through a business associate Westray (Brad Pitt). But as some unexpected incidents lead the plan out of control, Fassbender’s character comes to the terrible realisation that all that glitters is not gold.

And unfortunately, that terrible realisation quickly becomes clear to audience members also. Despite having what seems to be an interesting set-up by McCarthy, with good performances by great actors in stunning locations and with an incredible director, the film never manages to take off. Throughout the close to two hours running time, The Counsellor asks us to consider some weighty questions – is there a limit to greed? Is choice an illusion? McCarthy has created a story that is rich in grand themes and ideas, but ultimately is unable to express them because the audience is only given the superficial layers of his cast of characters.

There are some good moments the film, the dialogue is intelligent and philosophical. Javier Bardem plays a wonderfully lavish Miami Vice style drug baron, and the open shots of the desert, the dark clubs, the fast cars, and the occasional decapitations that make up the film weave together to create a convincing world. But ultimately it falls of deaf ears because the audience doesn’t have an engaging story to guide them through it.

Whether it is because the novel is a more natural form for McCarthy (whose previous on-screen successes were adapted from the novel by established screenwriters), or because he was purposefully setting out to attempt to subvert character and story structure is irrelevant to the end result – which a sequence of events that is almost impossible to connect to or be interested in, because the characters lack any compelling motivation for their actions. The Counsellor will undoubtedly go on to become the foundation stone around which screenwriting and storytelling workshops are built for generations to come.

counsellor review 21 nov

Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 21st Nov 2013.

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Drinking Buddies Film Review

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What looks at first glance to be a fairly innocuous comedy turns out to be a much cleverer than anticipated commentary on the nature of relationships. And booze.

In Drinking Buddies, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are 30-something co-workers at a brewery who share a passion for drinking beer and a general sense that they don’t quite fit in to the adult world. Their friendship is an outlet for a playful and flirtatious side of themselves that seems unfulfilled within their individual long-term relationships. Jill (Anna Kendrick) is a special-needs teacher whose certainty about what she wants in life stands in contrast to Luke’s perpetual befuddlement, while Chris’ (Ron Livingston) successful career as a music producer seems to intimidate and threaten Kate. A weekend away together provides the setting for the two couples to explore the tensions, both stated and unstated, that exist between them.

Drinking Buddies is a slow and measured film, in which writer and director Joe Swanberg adeptly captures the glances, stutters, and pauses that portray and often betray the subliminal desires and frustrations of the characters. Filmed in a working brewery, the film manages to portray a piece of reality, and the humour follows suit. It is spontaneous, pervasive, and subtle – not razor sharp or choreographed. There’s plenty of giggles, but few laugh-out-loud moments, which in its own way is refreshing, and a largely improvised script allows Wilde and Kendrick in particular to shine. While the focus for the most part is on Wilde and Johnson, there is an air of ambivalence that accompanies the conflict between all the characters that both challenges and engages the audience. Drinking Buddies may not be the conventional relationship comedy that it initially seems, but it is a thoughtful and entertaining film that begs the question – do we know when we’ve had enough?
gravity review

Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 7th Nov 2013.

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