Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Nut Job Film Review

thenutjobEarlier this year the frenetic sugar-buzzed Lego Movie rocked the cinemas – an oddball story, wired humour, and instantly relatable characters made it a universal hit with audiences and set a new watermark for animated films. While The Nut Job hits our screens this month, its original US release (back in January) predates the Lego Movie. It is an uncharacteristically long delay to cross the Atlantic – and while a sunny summer release here may attract the right kind of audience, it also runs the risk of living a large Lego block shadow. It is exactly the kind of risky make or break scenario that fuels this animated heist.

The Nut Job doesn’t really beat around the bush – the animals of the park in Oakton must get enough food together, or they won’t survive the fast-approaching winter. Working together under the sagely advice of Racoon (Liam Neeson), all the squirrels, birds, moles, and groundhogs try unsuccessfully to fill the communal pot – except for the anti-hero Surly (Will Arnett), a self-sufficient squirrel who refuses to be part of Racoon’s system. As the safe confines of the park cannot meet their needs, the animals are forced to venture into the city to find an answer.

Oakton is the kind of provincial 1950s metropolis that seems attractive if you are human, but is a filled with all kinds of dangers if you are small and furry – back alley rats, guard dogs, unforgiving trams and blundering automobiles abound. And then of course there are the mafia – the solution to the food crisis comes in the shape of a nut shop, which is being used for cover by a bunch of gangsters set on plundering the bank vaults that lie across the street. The gangsters act as a neat element of the story that allows for some entertaining side-by-side heist gags – it stands out as a rare snippet of self-referential humour in a film that is essentially a celebration of the great tradition of slapstick.

Park favourite Grayson (Brendan Fraser) is a high-flying heroic squirrel that believes he can save the day, but his ambitions outweigh his ability and he is quickly established as a stooge. The only squirrel with a lick of sense is Andie (Katherine Heigl) who sees that in order to make the heist work they will need to utilise the unique skillset of Surly, and that involves winning him over to the Park’s side. It plays out as the most straightforward redemption story you can imagine. While it lacks the pizazz and on the ball humour we are coming to expect from animated films, there is an endearing simplicity to The Nut Job – something in the brew of family-friendly nut puns, slapstick idiocy, and 50s aesthetic that harkens back to the old Hanna-Barbera days. And while it is no Animal Farm, the story of Surly and Racoon certainly tries to say a little something about our individual relationships with order and governance. As enjoyable as it is forgettable, this won’t be a summer hit but it will certainly entertain.

the nut job

Published in Dublin Gazette titles on Thursday 31st July 2014.

Mood Indigo Film Review

mood_indigo_bench__mediumDo you remember what falling in love feels like? It is a wonderful, and kooky experience – the coming together (when it works out) of two frames of reference that overlap to create a new private worldview, one with its own language, mythologies, and unique vision. Watching Michel Gondry’s latest film, Mood Indigo, can feel a little like stepping into the surreal and unfamiliar intimacies of somebody else’s already established space.

The shared secret life of lovers is a familiar theme for Gondry, it is 10 years since the visionary director gave us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Undoubtedly his most well-received film to date, Eternal Sunshine acts as interesting counterpoint to Mood Indigo. While Eternal Sunshine brought us the story of a couple who, through their effort of trying to split apart, end up moving closer together; Moon Indigo is a film about people desperately attempting to be together despite the inevitability of separation.

Colin (Romain Duris) is an affluent bachelor, who lives a life of luxury in the kind of pad that would make Willy Wonka turn green. In between churning out boozy tunes with his best friend Chick (Gad Emelah) on the Pianocktail (that’s right – it’s a piano that mixes up alcoholic concoctions based on your musical input) and having all manner of incredible animated treats cooked up by his chef Nicolas (Omar Sy, from the excellent Untouchable), Colin realises that he needs to find a lover to make his life complete. He meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou, from Amelie) at a party and things are set in stop-motion.

While the source is based on a novel (Boris Vian’s “L’Écume des jours” – which is a classic in France, apparently) Mood Indigo shows Gondry at his most Gondry-esque by far. Grab a single still frame from Colin’s apartment and there will be enough optical ingenuity crammed in to make your head spin. Watching it all in action can be overwhelming. The front doorbell rings and sets off a stop-motion ringing bell bug who proceeds to whizz about the chemistry lab kitchen where Nicolas is cooking eels that run like water in and out of the taps, while a celebrity chef on TV reaches through the screen to pass the salt and a miniature man-mouse who lives in a tube that runs around the house watches on. It is visually stunning, and at times beautiful, but the sheer relentlessness can also become mind-numbing.

Amid all the clockwork chaos of Mood Indigo, there is very little space for anything meaningful to develop. Colin and Chloe’s love affair is one that is plagued by incessant novelty, and both Duris and Tautou seem a little washed out in Gondry’s world. With Eternal Sunshine, Gondry’s vision coalesced with Carrey and Winslet’s performances to create an on-screen chemistry that is noticeably lacking here. This release of the film appears to drop a good 30 minutes of footage from the French release last year, and one can only wonder (until the DVD release, at least) what elements were cut and if the longer edit could offer a more balanced experience. Despite the feeling of imbalance, Mood Indigo is a great visual achievement and a fascinating piece of film, particularly for fans of Gondry. While you may not fall head over heels for Mood Indigo, you’ll no doubt enjoy its company, while it lasts.
mood indigo Published in the Dublin Gazette titles on Thursday 24th July 2014.

The Rover Film Review

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The RoverA man walks into a bar… it is the starting point we are all familiar with – a simple opener that can lead into all kinds of unexpected complexity and ambiguity. From The Rover’s opening shot of a desolate, swirling outback viewed through a grimy, sand-caked windscreen it is clear that we are making a foray into a world that is hazy and unsettled. The man in question is Eric (Guy Pearce), and the bar is a nameless roadside lean-to serving water, we know little else other than this all takes place in an unmistakably altered society ’10 years after the collapse’. When three bickering, bleeding, and heavily-armed criminals steal Eric’s car from outside the bar, a spartan plot is set in motion as Eric doggedly tracks them through the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The dark underbelly of Australia has always made for incredible films, capturing a sense of lawlessness and severed identity that seemed to be the natural successor to stories of the American frontier – while the Wild West may be won, Australia remains unbridled and untamed. Director David Michôd’s last feature film Animal Kingdom (in which Pearce also appears) breathed a breath of distinctly dusty air to the crime genre, and with The Rover he looks set to do the same to the post-apocalyptic flick. Taking a leaf from fellow-Aussie John Hillcoat’s film The Road, the audience remains in the dark about what happened to the world, and we are fed little scraps about how civilisation now functions as we follow our protagonist. Michôd’s new order of things harkens back to the Hobbesian idea of our earliest states where life is brutal, nasty, and short.

In the course of tracking his car, Eric finds Rey (Robert Pattison) the naive, mentally challenged younger brother of one of the criminals. Rey is badly wounded, but can provide information on his brother’s final destination, and in return Eric can provide a lifeline for Rey, so it is the beginning of an uneasy alliance as the pair make their nightmarish journey. Michôd makes no bones about the dog eat dog nature of The Rover – the result is a film that won’t be to everyone’s taste, much like Hillcoat’s The Proposition, but those undeterred by violence are in for a treat. The Rover is a vehicle for Guy Pearce, who gives an intense and mesmerising performance that slowly unfolds. Eric is a blank slate, but it is obvious that he is a broken one too; while the natural instinct is to attach and identify with our protagonist, the moral ambiguity of his actions lead to a sense of audience ambivalence. Likewise, Rey is made up of equally endearing and repugnant parts, and is a role that Robert Pattison plays with transformative relish.

A slightly jarring ending that seems to offer more of a punchline than resolution will need a little time to be digested, but it doesn’t spoil a remarkable film. The Rover is a dark and bloody thriller that manages to never lose intensity, even when it is making space to explore the bleak vastness of the inner and outer post-apocalyptic world.

the rover

Tammy Film Review

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Tammy-Movie-Review-WeLiveFilmTwo decades on from the iconic Thelma and Louise, Susan Sarandon buckles up for another epic road trip, this time she is joining Melissa McCarthy in Tammy. The directorial debut of McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone, Tammy follows the misadventures of the eponymous heroine on the worst day of her life – her car is wrecked, her job serving burgers at the local fast food joint is lost, and her husband leaves her for the next-door neighbour. Tammy’s only refuge involves taking her alcoholic grandmother Pearl (Sarandon) on a road-trip to Niagara Falls. It is the beginning of a string of bad luck that tails Tammy through the film, misfortune that is only matched by the meta-tragedy of thefilm repeatedly falling short.

Falcone has some solid comedy credentials as an actor, we know McCarthy is more than capable of getting the audience laughing, and even Dan Aykroyd stops by for a cameo role – but while it looks good on paper, it feels as if a vital element is missing from Tammy. Good comedy needs something to bounce off, it is the basis of the most fundamental of all comic relationships – the double act. The pairing of Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in 2013’s The Heat worked so well because both characters had radically different styles that conflicted comically. It is a formula that is not applied in Tammy, where both Tammy and Pearl are equally brash and selfish. On top of that, Sarandon never seems to sit comfortably or convincingly into her role as the Grandma from hell. With only a 24 year age gap between the two actors, it is hard to envision how this casting could work out – even rigged out in a grey wig and prosthetic cankles Sarandon never looks the part.

As a character, Tammy is written to be difficult to like, her qualities are buried so deep that by the time a redemptive turnaround appears it is too late to care. The film doesn’t fail for lack of trying, if there is one thing that can be said in its defence it is that it makes consistent efforts to make the audience laugh. The problem is that it seems powerless to do so. For the most part McCarthy attempts to carry scenes with a deluge of that kind of obnoxious, over the top comic performance that Jack Black milked dry around 2006. Without a convincing reason to root for her, and with little or no chance to develop the character, the film meanders and unravels more than it progresses. A late in the game appearance by Kathy Bates as Pearl’s cousin steers things in the right direction, but by that stage there is no saving it. While this road-trip doesn’t end up with the characters careening over a cliff-edge, you will probably wish it did.

tammy

The Grand Seduction Film Review

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Brendan Gleeson returns to another isolated rural community struggling for a sense of identity, though this time in a much lighter role than the incredible Calvary. Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction is a remake of a French-language film from 2003, and sees Gleeson as Murray, the makeshift mayor of the tiny harbour of Tickle Head in Newfoundland, Canada.

Tickle Head is an idyllic pastoral backwoods filled with the kind of merry peasant that Patrick Kavanagh satirized – ‘in his little lyrical fields, he ploughs and sows, he eats fresh food, he loves fresh women’. An opening scene sees a young Murray perched on his roof watching his father and all the other fishermen trudge home from the sea to a steaming plate and buxom wife – a simple, but happy existence.

Fast forward to the present day, when international regulations have devastated the fishing trade and Tickle Head’s rustic charm is quickly turning to rack and ruin. The men idle about unsure of their place in the world, bobbing between the bars and waiting for the next government cheque to arrive. One by one, families start to abandon Tickle Head to find work in the city. Cue Murray and his grand plan to attract a petroleum processing plant to the harbour, a move that would secure employment for all and ensure the future of Tickle Head. There are a multitude of problems to be solved – first and foremost is that the town needs a resident doctor. Enter Taylor Kitsch as Dr. Lewis, a young plastic surgeon staying in Tickle Head for a month, and a big fish that needs to be caught.

The Grand Seduction plays out like a version of the Truman Show set on Craggy Island. A tapped phone line in Dr. Lewis’ house acts as an inlet to his stream of thought, allowing Murray and the rest of the denizens to shape Tickle Head into a place that fulfils his every need – though with the unique kind of charm that only a shoddy, isolated, harbour community can offer. It’s a classic underdog story, propelled a little further by the tension of whether Dr. Lewis will cotton on to the ploy. Gleeson, true to form, continues to dominate the screen with another incredible performance – bringing a depth to Murray that could have very easily been missed out on – and the same can be said for Kitsch. In many ways The Grand Seduction stays near the surface, the plot unfolding through a series of comedic set-ups; but Kitsch and Gleeson’s relationship, especially as they drift into surrogate father and son territory, is a lifesaver. It brings a welcome level of moral ambiguity to the affair that just about saves the film from mawkishness.

McKellar manages to capture a gorgeous piece of Newfoundland – the rough coastal landscapes, angled fields, and the garbled dialect will be familiar to Irish viewers (the fact that this corner of Canada is a relative stranger to cinema probably works in this film’s favour as it is impossible to tell whether the accents are accurate or diabolical). The downside of The Grand Seduction is that it is a film that revolves around one gag – and at close to two hours, that starts to get a little tiring. You’d almost wish McKellar spent a little less time on some of the predictable set-ups, and lingered a little in areas that are zipped through, like Gleeson’s relationship with his wife. Go to The Grand Seduction and expect the archetypal fisherman’s tale – one that is outlandish, exaggerated, and with plenty of struggles. Whatever it lacks in dramatic punch it tries to make up for with comedy, which makes it a  somewhat frivolous but chirpy little film that will bring plenty of laughs.

the grand seduction