Monthly Archives: February 2014

Under the Skin Film Review

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Under the Skin is the long-awaited latest visual treat from director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth). Dark, and at times disturbing, the film sees Scarlett Johansson as an alien who arrives on earth to prey on vulnerable males on the streets of Scotland. The story is left deliberately vague, Johansson’s femme fatale character, Laura, is part of a group of unnamed, unknown aliens who take human form in order to – well it’s not exactly clear what they want to do but it doesn’t look healthy.

Laura sets about seducing people at the fringes of society, young people without families, loners, easy targets who won’t be missed. They are disposed of stylistically, wilfully submerged in some otherworldly black stasis that’s never explained. Glazer and cinematographer Daniel Landin have created a wonderfully intoxicating, oil-slick, psychedelic world for Johansson to explore. And it is intriguing to watch for a while, especially to a remarkably well-suited soundtrack. But once it becomes clear, around 45 minutes in, that the narrative may also be from outer-space, cleverly attempting to wear the skin of a traditional story then it all begins to crumble. The intended mystery quickly becomes tedious, and at times it seemed Over the Head might have been a better title.

There seem to be fleeting glimpses of grander themes on display, and if you really wanted to you could read the film as a form of the classic thought experiment about how our society looks to the outsider, or it could also say something about gender roles in in Western culture, or the predatory nature of life, but you would be putting in a lot of work to do so. Under the Skin falls into that baffling trend of films that are being eruditely made from a technical perspective, but practically devoid of story and substance.

Tim's-Vermeer

 

Published in Gazette Group titles (Dublin City Gazette, Swords Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 27th Feb 2014.

Tim’s Vermeer Film Review

Rating:

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Researching the painting techniques of a 17th Century Dutch Master may not sound like your typical cinema fare, but Tim’s Vermeer is an absolute joy for anyone interested in a gripping story. The Tim in question is Tim Jenison, an inventor and founder of Newtek, a company that ushered in a new era of video production in the 1980s, and continues pushing the boundaries of video broadcasting and 3D rendering today. This effectively means as well as having his finger on the pulse of digital imaging, he now has the means and opportunity to pursue some rather quirky personal obsessions – like figuring out how Johannes Vermeer painted such exquisitely detailed images.

Jenison argues that in paintings such as The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Vermeer creates images in an almost photographic style, capturing the fall-off of light in in ways which the human eye doesn’t pick up. Having worked with cameras for all of his professional life, Jenison becomes convinced that Vermeer’s paintings show lighting effects that are only visible through the lens of a camera and hypothesises that either Vermeer had an eye that was drastically different to any other human eye, or that he used a camera.

The idea that burgeoning camera technology was utilised by Vermeer and other painters is not new. As the film details, there is a canon of work showing how the camera obscura has been used across centuries to create incredibly detailed images. Jenison builds on the existing theory firstly by suggesting a unique way a mirror could be used to account for the lighting effects, and secondly by taking on the role of an experimental archaeologist and attempting to put the theory to practice in painstaking detail, despite never having wielded a paintbrush.

The film is produced and directed by Penn and Teller who have been gracing our screens for decades as stage magicians and professional debunkers. At this point they are dab hands at skilfully unravelling a good yarn, and it is evident. Across 80 minutes the film never misses a beat, taking us on the highs and lows of Jenison’s obsessive journey which sees him travelling around the world in search of answers from artists, scientists, and historians; testing the limits of his (and his family’s) patience in his quest to recreate a Vermeer.

Through seeking to physically recreate a Vermeer, Jenison also metaphorically paints a portrait of the artist. The picture that emerges is one of Vermeer as the archetypal Renaissance man, a polymath who is both an exceptionally skilled artist and an avid technological tinkerer, a person who is obsessed with the details and possessed of a tenacity to realise them. Despite the centuries that and professional labels that adorn them, the two men seem to have a lot in common. Tim’s Vermeer is a film that seeks to shrink the ideological gulf that can exist between high art and technology – it is an engaging, entertaining, and educational underdog story that exposes inextricable links between genius and hard graft.

Tim's-Vermeer

 

Published in Gazette Group titles (Dublin City Gazette, Swords Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 27th Feb 2014.

The Lego Movie Film Review

Rating:

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It seems natural to see franchise figurines populate the shop shelves in the wake of a successful film, but there is something impulsively off-putting about seeing the journey in reverse. When toys make the transition from shelf to screen, we brace ourselves for exasperation, because these types of films have a tendency to be uninspired things, leaving kids momentarily satiated and parents monetarily emaciated. Couple that with the fact that Lego is the marmite of playthings – with people either becoming hooked by its geeky expansiveness, or being repelled by its banality – and you would easily be forgiven for thinking that The Lego Movie would be one to overlook. Luckily the realised product is a world apart from the imagined one.

Written and directed by the team responsible for the kid-friendly Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the not so kid-friendly 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie occupies a space somewhere in between (and high above) their previous features. It is a colourful, frenetic, sugar-high of a film that is laced with volleys of on the button pop culture references and unrelenting, very clever comedic writing. This never feels like a kids’ film that gives an occasional nod to the adult audience – it feels like a film written for adults that remains adroitly accessible to kids. The story follows Emmett (Chris Pratt), a very ordinary Lego man who lives a very ordinary Lego existence. He works as part of a construction team, building Lego skyscrapers in accordance with the Lego instructions, until the day when he stumbles across the fabled ‘piece of resistance’ that interrupts his conformist life by plunging him into a revolutionary underworld he never knew existed. Building on Wreck-It Ralph’s formula, The Lego Movie draws together a pantheon of popular culture icons that have appeared in Lego through the years. Emmet’s adventure unfolds like Toy Story meeting The Matrix in a bizarre mash-up world populated by Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gandalf, Abraham Lincoln, and Shakespeare.

The Lego Movie is a joy to watch, with stunning visuals slickly bringing the modular world and its incredible cast to life. Will Ferrell’s arch-villain of the piece Lord Business is a treat, and Irish audiences in particular will get a kick from Liam Neeson’s hilarious Jeckyl-and-Hyde style goon. While the story is at times overpowered by the rapid-fire asininity, it is strong and simple enough to easily connect back to, and beneath its hyperactive veneer it manages to carry a surprisingly deep and salient theme. Emmet’s world is populated by those who follow the instructions, building things as they were planned, and by those who step outside the norm and embrace their own vision of things, building new things that often fail but sometimes succeed. It manages to be both an exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of these conflicting worldviews, and a reflection on how our innate sense of playfulness often gets lost along the road to adulthood. Perhaps The Lego Movie’s greatest successes are a result of the fact that we are instinctively bound to underestimate it. Yes, it is a film about Lego, and yes, that means in a way it is 100 minute long advertisement, but it’s also so much more. It is an incredibly entertaining celebration of weirdness, and one of the most inventive discourses on creativity that you are likely to see in cinema this year.

The-Lego-MoviePublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 20th Feb 2014.

The Monuments Men Film Review

Rating:

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The Monuments Men is based on one of the most fascinating stories of the Second World War, a real-life underdog tale that has been begging to be told on screen. In 1944 Allied forces discover that Hitler is looting and amassing huge quantities of paintings and sculptures from museums and private collections across Europe – including works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo. There are rumours of his intentions to create a massive complex to display the art in Austria. The Allied plan of action involves gathering an unlikely ensemble of museum curators and art historians who are given to task of going behind enemy lines to locate, identify, and safely return the stolen pieces of art.

Starring Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, and John Goodman, The Monuments Men boasts an incredible array of talent. Clooney is to the fore both on and off-screen, taking on the roles of director and writer in a recipe that bred success in 2005’s Good Night and Good Luck and 2011’s The Ides of March – but this film sees Clooney shift away from the slower paced political intricacies of his earlier films, The Monuments Men is a film that is focused on action. Or at least it tries to be, as the shift in pace is not as smooth as might have been hoped for.

At first glance, Clooney’s theatre of war has none of the muddy, bloody, bleak realism that we’ve become accustomed to. Instead it is a throwback to a time before Saving Private Ryan to a Saturday matinee, moustachioed version of World War II complete with all the colourful kitsch you might expect to see emblazoning the cover of a Warlord comic. It’s against this backdrop that The Monuments Men works best, leaning heavily on comedy and action, and it’s where Murray, Goodman, and Dujardin are allowed to shine.

While the large all-star cast is attractive, it also brings problems as it seems that Clooney struggles in an attempt to grant everyone equal screen time. As the characters are based in several locations in Europe, the end result is a plot stitched together from too many formulaic episodes that failto provide any character growth or depth. There’s an inherent tension when the film then tries to capture a historical reality that jars with the more cartoonish elements, and the emotional chords that the film endeavours to strike are too easily drowned out by the fanfare and marching drums. Running at a lengthy two hours, you cannot help but feel that things could have been much improved with a tighter edit.

While it is a valiant effort to bring an important part of history to light, ultimately The Monuments Men is a good story told badly. It does ask us some interesting questions – how much value do we place on artistic expression? And can cultural artefacts be more valuable than human lives? But unfortunately these are likely to go unheard. While the real life Monuments Men had a clear reason for being, the film seems confused about what it hopes to achieve and as despite great source material, and a wonderful cast, it fails to be inspiring.

The-Monuments-MenPublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 13th Feb 2014.