Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)

A film worth talking about

Jean-Luc Godard has always broken the rules, and in Goodbye to Language's most bravura sequences he breaks 3D. In a pair of scenes that have already justified much acclaim - and a reported mid-film round of applause at Cannes - he ignores the fundamental idea that stereoscopy uses two offset images to create the illusion of one, layered image for the viewer. This is partially achieved by having two cameras, side by side, shoot the same scene. Godard instead chooses to separate the cameras and have them follow two different actions. The audience then sees to different images, separate yet connected. Cover one eye, and you'll see one 2D image. Cover the other eye, you'll see another image. Both eyes open, you see both simultaneously. It's a mind-bending sight - an imaginative way of using aesthetics to tell a story, especially in a film as obsessed with duality and (a)symmetry as this one is. If you want to understand how 3D works, these two shots are an enlightening crash course.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)

Pushing or dragging?

Whiplash is an almost classical cinematic two-hander. It boasts a whip smart script, a fondness for mid-twentieth-century jazz music and a variety of deliciously viscous put downs - in those respects, it is not entirely removed from the world of screwball comedy despite adopting tones and modes far removed from the textbook examples of that genre. But like all two-handers, it is the two hands that elevate Whiplash, and puts the central pair in the same ballpark as your Grants and Russells, Bogarts and Bacalls, Lemmons and Matthaus.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

12 Years a Kid

Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood (Universal Pictures / IFC)
When we're talking about film, the word 'ordinary' tends to be typically uttered with a note of snark and condemnation. An 'ordinary' film is one that's shackled with familiarity, and one that struggles to say anything exceptional in a distinctive way. Sometimes though ordinariness can be a more complex trait, and in fact can be a wholly positive attribute. Sometimes there's a film - and I'm talking about Boyhood here - that's actually quite extraordinarily ordinary, oxymorons be damned.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Punk Singer (Sini Anderson, 2013)

Rebel Girl

Photo: Kathleen Hanna. Courtesy of Dogwoof (
Even a cursory glance at the critical discussion surrounding the documentary The Punk Singer will highlight one recurrent word: hagiography. And it's not an unfair choice of vocabulary. This is a portrait of Bikini Kill / Le Tigre singer Kathleen Hanna where director Sini Anderson clearly has a deep rooted respect for her subject. The various talking heads - including Joan Jett, Adam Horovitz (Hanna's husband), Kim Gordon and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker & Carrie Brownstein - also wax lyrical about Hanna's talent and influence. Some time is allotted to sound out some of the criticisms Hanna's music, ideologies and even personal life have been subjected to over the years, but it's very much from a defensive, some might argue dismissive, perspective.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What's in a Zoom? - The films of Hong Sang-soo

Truth through zooming

Jung Eun-chae and Lee Sunk-yun in Nobody's Daughter Haewon
Until late 2013, the films of South Korean director Hong Sang-soo were almost entirely unavailable in the UK & Ireland, with his work only procurable through DVD imports, downloads and film festival screenings. This regrettable situation was partially rectified with the theatrical and DVD release of Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, Sang-soo’s fourteenth feature. For some Irish viewers - this writer included - it was perhaps a first encounter with the filmography of this most idiosyncratic of contemporary directors.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans, 2014)

Bigger and/or better?

I have to admire writer/director/editor Gareth Evans' ambition to up the narrative scale and ambition of The Raid 2. Its predecessor was a lean, efficient storytelling machine, spending just enough time developing the characters and conflicts to ensure it wasn't simply a meaningless jumble of visceral and brutal combat. It was hardly storytelling gold, but it did the job. So yes: aiming for something more epic is a worthy goal - escalating the claustrophobic events of film one to a citywide scale and encompassing a complex, spiraling gang war. In a genre like action films, where story is so often treated as a mere inconvenience, lord knows aiming for something more in-depth is something to be praised. Regrettably, Evans sabotages that goodwill with haphazard execution.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas, 2014)

Good work, marshmallows?

A long time ago, we used to be friends there was a little TV show called Veronica Mars. Merrily plucking choice elements from film noir, Nancy Drew, high school dramas, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more, the cocktail of influences coalesced into a smart and compelling drama, thanks in no small part to Kristen Bell's stellar work as the teenaged private eye. A critical darling from the offset, Veronica Mars, however, struggled to secure a commercially-viable audience in the deeply unpleasant world of network television. Although it nearly miraculously lasted for three seasons - in stark contrast to the truncated single runs of its near-contemporaries Firefly and Freaks & Geeks (more on both those later) - there was still the sense that Mars' inevitable cancellation came too soon, that there was still life in the characters and setting of Neptune. A follow-up was particularly anticipated since the entertaining but uneven third series struggled to maintain the high quality of its predecessors, as it awkwardly shifted away from season long storytelling into a series of 'mini-arcs' (surely a last ditch attempt to appeal to a more casual audience). Some might say season three was evidence the show had run out of steam, but in this writer's opinion anyway it was only a tad disappointing because it was abundantly clear there was the potential for more A-grade Veronica Mars. Indeed, the quality still shone through during season three's best moments.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dublin Film Festival 2014 Report - 22nd and 23rd February

The Lost Weekend

Tracks (dir. John Curran) marked the third and final Mia Wasikowska starring film I saw during the festival, and this is the only one where she takes center stage. It's another extremely strong performance from Wasikowska, here playing Robyn Davidson - a young Australian woman who traversed over 2,500 kilometres of Australian desert in 1977, mostly solo. Her companions are four camels (one a calf) and a dog. The increasingly ubiquitous Adam Driver plays the photographer who meets her at certain intervals, and she's also joined for a period by an elderly Aboriginal guide). Wasikowska and Curran manage to capture the character's almost stubborn drive in a consistently engaging way - there's a welcome element of vagueness about the motivations (perhaps because the motivations were vague), instead focusing on the various challenges Davidson faced over the course of her months traversing the difficult terrain. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dublin Film Festival 2014 Report - 20th and 21st February

Many Stories of Film

The Reunion
A Story of Children and Film sees critic turned filmmaker Mark Cousins explore some of the many, many ways childhood has been portrayed in cinema. As the title indicates, this is a sort of spin-off to Cousin's epic 15-hour documentary (and accompanying book) A Story of Film, which boldly and surprisingly successfully attempted to celebrate the vast history of moviemaking. A Story of Children... is a more focused affair, but this 'essay film' illustrates Cousins' impressive critical faculties and dizzying knowledge of the medium as he provides fascinating analysis of trends, themes and aesthetics over elegantly chosen clips from a wide range of films. At the outset Cousins explains he will largely stick to more obscure and forgotten greats - although there are a few pitch perfect inclusions like E.T. - and he provides all but the most avid cinephile with a range of fascinating looking films from around the world to seek out.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dublin Film Festival Report - 16th-19th February

Stuck in the Middle

Is the mountain climbing documentary a legitimate subgenre yet? Beyond the Edge (presented in 3D, for whatever reason) follows in the steps of Touching the Void and The Summit, this time recounting the story of the first two people to reach the peak of Everest in 1953. Using a mixture of documentary footage and recreation (plus liberal voiceover interviews), the film explores the subject in bland, uninspiring detail. It's all a bit of a trudge, the story interesting but the delivery dull. There is a beautiful 360 degree pan when the pair finally reach the peak, but that's a rare highlight in a film that is predominantly bog standard documentary fare that does little artistic justice to a remarkable story.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dublin Film Festival Report - 13th, 14th, 15th February 2014

Opening Gambit

One of the problems anyone will face when attending a film festival is simply trying to take the time to reflect on the films as they rush from one cinema to the next. Sitting down and writing about them is another thing again, and I don't envy the professional critics who have to watch five or six films a day and quickly turn around high quality, coherent reports at the same time. But hey, they're paid for the privilege.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wings (William Wellman, 1927)

The Spectacular Then

If you blame Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for instigating the scourge of the spectacle movie, you’re not alone. But Wings, fifty years older than Star Wars (and in some ways not entirely incomparable), is one definitive indicator that the idea was around long, long before the phenomenon of galaxies far, far away.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, 2013)

Corporate Compromise

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that with great regularity declares itself to be a film about escaping the drudgery of modern life and finding yourself as an individual. It's about taking risks and embracing chance. The narrative urges the audience to see the world and to not fear the unexpected. It's also about the incredible bonding power of a good Cinnabon.