Category Archives: Writing

Creed film review

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Few films epitomise the American dream more than the Oscar-winning Rocky franchise. The archetypal story of the hard-working underdog is so deeply cemented in our cultural and cinematic heritage that just hearing the opening bars of the famous theme can cause even the most unathletic among us to begin bounding enthusiastically up nearby steps. Rocky became an icon, and the Rocky films became a celebration of the Protestant work ethic upon which America was founded: have faith, toil relentlessly, and you will justly rewarded.

Forty years on from the original film and a new stratum of the Rocky mythos emerges in Creed. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), the story follows the rise of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) whose father, Apollo Creed, was world champion before being beaten by Rocky Balboa. Adonis has plenty of physical potential, but no formal training, and knowing that his father became steadfast friends with Rocky, Adonis seeks out the long-retired Balboa to help him.

Littered with visual and structural allusions to the 1976 Rocky, the film has no qualms about staying tight to its source material. Adonis runs through the streets in a familiar grey tracksuit, drills relentlessly in the gym, and chases chickens to improve his footwork just like Rocky did all those years ago. While Balboa steps into the role of the grizzled mentor, barking gravelly encouragement just like Mickey did all those years ago. Oh, and there goes Adonis, getting romantically entangled while he should be training, just like Rocky did, all those years ago. It plays out like a topsy-turvy trip down memory lane, complete with suitably epic montage sequences.

Creed manages to be familiar, but not staid thanks to some persuasive performances. Michael B. Jordan is fresh and enigmatic in the lead role, managing to capture both the physical prowess and psychological naiveté of an up and coming contender. Stallone suits the world-weary supporting role, and the two gel together nicely. When Rocky has Adonis come stay in his apartment as training intensifies, the pair enter in a kind of familial bond – with Rocky becoming the long sought after father-figure for Adonis, and Adonis fulfilling the role of an ideal son for Rocky. Adonis’ love interest, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) serves to add another level of depth – allowing us to see another side to Jordan’s range, while also providing a plot-line that adds some tension between Rocky and Adonis. Creed manages to mirror so much of what made Rocky successful, as Coogler essentially retells the Rocky story for a new generation, and opening weekends in the US (where it was released some weeks earlier) suggest that there is still a large appetite for an underdog story. But in retelling the story, Coogler also preserved the original American myth – work hard, and you can get what you want, which is where things fall short. Because there is also a distinct feeling that the cultural milieu has shifted since the 70s, and something about the simplicity of the story-arc and central philosophy that Creed adopted rings out of kilter with the kind of stories we encounter in cinemas today. Next to Southpaw, or The Wrestler, Creed’s story seems a little facile.

Not that there is anything wrong with an old fashioned good versus evil tale, but Creed doesn’t even manage to do that. In trying to craft a more modern and realistic retelling of Rocky, Coogler loses the dynamic between Rocky and Apollo, as the lines between good and bad become necessarily blurred. Enjoyable, albeit hollow, Creed is a powerful start to the new generation of the boxing franchise.

14th Jan - CREED

One Million Dubliners Film Review

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Sometimes the easiest things to overlook are the ones that can be the most important. Take Glasnevin Cemetery, the subject of a new documentary film: One Million Dubliners. The iconic O’Connell tower is familiar to anyone living in the capital, and for most folk settled in Dublin it is likely that they know someone interred within its long grey walls. As the title suggests, there are
almost as many dead buried (around 1.5 million, but maybe that doesn’t sound as snappy) in the 124 acres of the cemetery as there are people living in the city – and yet it remains a place almost
permanently in the background of our lives.

The work of Underground Films (the same people who brought the Rossport and Shell Oil standoff to our screens in 2010’s The Pipe), One Million Dubliners may not seem to offer the same amount of immediate conflict or drama, but it quickly becomes evident that there are multiple layers of depth at play. Ostensibly the film traces the evolution of the cemetery, from its emergence against a background of Penal Laws and partiality, through its popularity after the War of Independence, to the non-denominational melting pot that it has become today – a space where young and old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious all end up side by side.

As fascinating at Glasnevin’s origins are, there is so much more than a history lesson on offer here. Director Aoife Kelleher has done a stupendous job of weaving intricate and intimate strands of story together to create something that feels truly profound. The film gently moves into other facets of life (and death) at the cemetery, including some of the quirkier elements like the infatuation
attached to revolutionary figures, particularly Michael Collins – whose grave attracts reverent admirers from around the world, some of whom have visited several times a year for decades.

Then there’s an insight into the inner workings of the death industry – the practicalities of plot planning, the challenge of restoration projects, and the necessity of maintaining a steady income following the economic collapse. There is also the nuts and bolts business of cremation and burial, with incredibly insightful interviews from workers who have built their careers in the business. It is within these interviews that the film shifts gear from being a documentary about a place, to being a documentary that explores greater notions of tradition and transcendence, belief and non-belief, and ultimately how we choose to live and die as individuals.

The day-to-day stories from the tour guides and the graveside mourners emerge as the real heart of the film. There are rare moments when a piece of art seems to capture something beyond itself – when the constituent elements at play all seem to line up perfectly, and this is undoubtedly one of them. One Million Dubliners is a prime example of how film can be so much more than just a medium that carries information or entertainment – a film can be as potent as a deathbed conversation or as intimate as a final kiss. And as well as showcasing an aspect of reality, a well-crafted film like this can challenge you to change it. One Million Dubliners is one of the most surprising and poignant films of the year. It may be a little inaccurate to say that you only live once – you have a chance to live every day, but you only die once. So for those of us still possessing the luxury of choice, do yourself a favour and put going to see One Million Dubliners at the top of your bucket list.

30th October 1md

Nightcrawler Film Review

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When the TV glows to life each morning in millions of households across Los Angeles, viewers are treated to their dose of breakfast news. Bleak stories of tragedy that unfolded through the night
are often prefaced with that ominous statement: viewer discretion is advised. It is advice that one could just as easily tack onto Nightcrawler, a jet black comic character study that combs the dark
underbelly of the American dream.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an aspiring freelance video journalist who stalks the city at night armed with a police scanner and camcorder, eager to capture visceral footage of car crashes, shootings, and other violent crimes that he can then sell on to the news networks in time for breakfast. As the focal point of the film, we see the aptly named Bloom grow in a field in which success necessitates the continual plumbing of morally ambiguous depths. A Faustian pact made with Nina, a struggling news director (Rene Russo) gives the emotionally vapid Bloom a sense of purpose, and his sociopathy quickly becomes his greatest asset in the quest for prosperity.

It is no exaggeration to say that the efficacy of Nightcrawler rests almost completely on the back of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance – to date it is his most entrancing role and in all likeliehood will see him nominated for an Oscar next year. Thin and drawn, Gyllenhaal has created an antihero that will haunt you long after you leave the screen. Bloom is the uncomfortable embodiment of all that ails Western culture – obsessed with success above all else, he spurts incessant gems of consumerist idealism that echo the founding myth of America: that those who work hard will be justly rewarded.With a dogged determination and a scalpel-like focus, Bloom obsessively manipulates his way up the rungs with no regard to those he steps on along the way.

Beautifully capturing a lesser seen side of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who also provided the script. While it may be his first jaunt in the director’s chair, Gilroy is a well-established storyteller, with writing credits for The Bourne Legacy (directed by his brother Tony Gilroy) and The Fall, amongst others. Gilroy’s previous experience shines through on Nightcrawler, where he comfortably proves that he is more than capable of weaving an engaging and original film that is not afraid to jump into some weighty themes. Every character in Nightcrawler is desperate for success, consumed with a vampiric lust that renders them unable to consider whether the object of their desire is authentic. A none-too-subtle swipe is aimed at the industry and audience that perpetuates the kind of news that dominates so many channels – Russo’s character wants stories of affluent Caucasians attacked by minorities, she wants the stories where the middle-classes feel threatened in their own homes: ‘think of our newscast a screaming woman running down the road with her throat cut’ she instructs with a certain amount of delectation.

What may be surprising to hear is that despite the thematic gravity of Nightcrawler, it is an incredibly funny film. Gyllenhaal’s ghoulish tenacity to succeed at all odds leads to some outlandish and darkly comic moments, especially in his competition with a more established rival (Bill Paxton). While the absurdity of the situation is humorous, the reality of it is terrifying, and it is this blend of
simultaneous disparate feelings that gives the film its incredibly unique mood – Nightcrawler is a superb and chilling movie that will make you want to reach out and squeeze the hand of someone
you care about, and may irredeemably alter your morning ritual.

23rd October nightcrawler clipping

Gold Film Review

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What has been an incredible year for Irish films will no doubt be rounded off by Gold – a quirky and heart-warming comedy of errors centred on a winter in the life of Abbie (Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams). Abbie is set on running through the troubles of teenage years, spurred on by her stepdad Frank McGunn (James Nesbitt) an indomitable powerhouse of a P.E. teacher who becomes obsessed with training Abbie to run using his patented running technique – The Way of the McGunn.

All is going smoothly until Abbie’s estranged father Ray (David Wilmot) surprises everyone by coming back onto the scene. Recovering from mental illness, Ray seeks a temporary refuge with
Abbie’s mother Alice (Kerry Condon), and much to the chagrin of Frank. Offering the opposite of Frank’s regimented outlook, Ray sets out to re-establish connections with Alice and Abbie and to
find his own place in the world.

Gold sits alongside Run and Jump as one of the standout Irish films of the year. It is the kind of simple film that contains unexpected thematic depths on our struggles with physical and mental
health, and our search for identity and belonging. Maisie Williams and David Wilmot are superb, working with a clever and well-crafted story that beautifully captures the melancholy and madness of adolescence, whatever age that might occur at.

Fans of coming of age films like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine will not be disappointed by the off-beat humour, heartfelt story, and great soundtrack.

16th October the judge gold clipping

The Judge Film Review

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You’d be forgiven for making a snap decision based on the opening scene of The Judge, which sees fast-talking, hot-shot lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) pivot at a urinal to ‘accidentally on purpose’ dampen the mood of a colleague who is berating him for consistently taking on morally dubious clients. Hank justifies his raison d’être as he expertly tosses a paper towel in the bin, calling on a litany of materialistic life successes: his fine garb, his stunning house, his Ferrari. Yes, this seems like another Robert Downey Jr. flick saturated in all the usual RDJ shtick, but happily there’s a bit more churning away inside.

The Judge in question is Hank’s father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), one of those crotchety, back-water, table-thumping kind of judges, who wholeheartedly despises Hank’s big city life. The two are forced to find some manner of reconciliation when Hank must defend his father against an accusation of murder. It is the fish out water element of the story that wins through – the sleepy town of Carlinville, Indiana provides the backdrop for Hank to go through the process of coming face to face with his mother, his father, his brothers, and old lovers in an almost Dickensian reflection on his life to date.

Director David Dobkin’s background in comedy (The Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights) is on show here, with plenty of laugh out loud moments, but The Judge is distinct in its move away from the audacious to the melodramatic. The more ambling pace at which Dobkin directs allows for some impressive performances from the rest of the cast. Particular stand outs are Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) who plays Hank’s old flame, Samantha; and Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Hank’s older brother – a once promising athlete who had his chances scuppered and carries all that frustration and resentment that brings. Billy Bob Thornton also appears as a prosecuting attorney, a kind of gatekeeper that Hank must pass on his journey – it stands out as a strange bit of casting, as Thornton seems too big to fill an essentially gratuitous role. Once we move past the angry judge and the hot-shot lawyer stereotypes, there are some genuinely great moments from both Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

While there is more than enough drama in the main story to fuel the film, it is both a blessing and a curse that The Judge provides a superfluous amount of plot. There are love affairs, funerals,
fraternal rivalries, ongoing court cases, divorce and custody battles, and a rickety hydrangea motif, (amongst many other things) thrown into the mix – it is like being served up a carvery with a paltry piece of meat but an abundance of trimmings, which might seem like a bad thing until you start to tuck in. While the diversions from the main story do bulk the film out, they provide many of the best moments.

Ultimately a warts and all portrait of familial love, The Judge showcases strong lead performances from both Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall; while resting on one of the most solid supporting casts of the year. The clash between the high drama of the courtroom and the everyday drama of the living-room is unfortunate, as the unruliness of the story will be a stickler for some viewers. There is a lot that could have been improved with a tighter edit, but a lot that would have been lost as well. There are too many other good things wrapped up in 140 minutes to pass a severe sentence.

16th October the judge gold clipping