Tag Archives: film review

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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Gravity Film Review

Rating:

There’s a moment early on in Gravity that caused a palpable sense of dread in the audience – a wide angle vertigo-inducing shot of first time astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) spinning, detached and out of control, into the endless dark abyss of space.

It sets the tone for 91 minutes of cinema that is high-strung, unrelenting, and armrest-indenting. Gravity is visually stunning and boasts the most effective use of 3D in a film to date, using the technology to add to an already realised world (or should that be universe) rather than relying on it to create it. It is against this magnificently constructed black backdrop that the story of  greenhorn Stone and grizzled veteran Kowalski (George Clooney) is told. A routine maintenance mission on the International Space Station is interrupted when a satellite moves off course, creating a chain reaction of destruction that results in a deadly cloud of debris hurtling towards the team. With the space station and much of the equipment damaged by the first pass, it’s a matter of finding a way back to safety before the debris makes its way back around.

Bullock takes the centre stage in Gravity, and handles a particularly tricky role exceptionally well. Separated from the rest of the crew, much of her characters story takes place as close shots inside the cumbersome dome of a helmet. Yet within this she is able to convincingly convey some of the isolation, terror, and awe that Stone feels. The impassive darkness around her eventually becomes a kind of supporting character, indiscriminately providing moments of danger and moments of beauty; and likewise a central role is played by the intense and haunting score by Steven Price that manages to capture the feelings of dread and hope.

Gravity tells a very simple story of adversity, hope, and rebirth. Paradoxically the simplicity of the story is both its great strength and probably the main criticism that is likely to be levelled against the film. Admittedly it seems devoid of the kind of fast-paced cerebral dialogue, layered character development, or complex allegorical levels that we have become accustomed to. Writer and director Alfonso Cuarón’s last big screen film was 2006’s dystopian thriller Children of Men, where we saw a more conventional story structure: a cast of characters with their own competing drives, spurred into action that takes place across a variety of locations. Against this, the use of what is effectively a cast of one, set for the most part in a single (albeit infinite) location to tell a story can make Gravity seem deceptively simple. But the reality is that telling such a gripping story with such a sparse selection of elements is a testament to the skill of those involved. And if the focus of critics is on the story is also a testament to the technological excellence of the film – it means that the massive amounts of CGI and effects involved have been used in a way that allowed the viewer to become engaged with the story, rather than distracted from it.

The end result is that Gravity is an incredible piece of filmmaking that begs to be seen on the big screen in 3D, as it is without a doubt one of the most impressive, immersive, and engaging cinema experiences to date.

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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