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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Friday, 28 December 2012

My Irish film Awards for 2012

2012 has been a very good year for Irish film. It has been some time since I can remember so many releases in the cinema and indeed such positive reviews. There have been some trends that have yet to go away such as wildly over praising some films just because they are not bad. What is needed in film criticism for Irish film is the exact same approach to film criticism for films of any country. We need to forget where they are from and fairly assess the film based on merit. This really should be happening all the time but alas, it is not. There are too many extremes of opinion going from over praise to burying a film. The middle ground surely has to be the hope for 2013.

In looking at my favourite Irish films of 2012 I have to say that I did not get to see everything that was released in cinemas. The two major misses were Dollhouse and Death of a Superhero which came and went too quickly. I intend to see and review both as soon as possible. If they are good enough I will revise this list as appropriate. Without further ado, here are my favourite Irish films of 2012.

Best Irish Film of 2012 Award – Silence

And so it was in early August I headed to the Lighthouse cinema to see a film I knew very little about. 90 minutes later I came out reeling from the pure power of Pat Collins’s film. It is the story of Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) who comes back to Ireland for a job involving recording landscapes free from man-made sound. This is the jumping off point for a magnificent journey into memory, exile and the soil, the beating heart of a country left behind. The further Eoghan travels away from sounds, the closer we come to understanding his need to reconnect to the land he left behind. This is a mesmerising film, full of stunning landscapes and interesting people and stories. Ultimately, it is a journey to within: burrowing into the dark heart of emigration and our need to understand who we are and where we come from. This is not only the best Irish film of 2012 but one of the best films of 2012 full stop.

The Return of the King Award – Lenny Abrahamson for What Richard Did

The return of Lenny Abrahamson to cinemas was celebrated with the release of What Richard Did. This was a rich and rewarding glimpse into a world I had not seen on screen before: namely the young and affluent set on the Southside of Dublin. The story is well known so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that it is loosely based around the Club Annabel killing in 2001. This is the kind of film that Ireland should be making. What should be celebrated here is something which has been rarely seen in Irish film, namely a contemporary drama with confidence and flair and a belief in what it is doing. Abrahamson’s next film stars Michael Fassbender. Stardom and Hollywood surely awaits. But on a purely selfish note, there is a hope that he will stay and make films in Ireland for many years to come.

The Debut from Hell Award – Charlie Casanova

Here was a film that got people talking. And arguing. Not to mention public spats between director Terry Mc Mahon and film critic Donald Clairke. Charlie Casanova was a film that made people uneasy. A lot didn’t like it as a film (perfectly acceptable) but there were also people who seemed to take great offense at someone putting out a film that was as aggressive and unlikeable but also successful at getting distribution and advertising. Who do they think they are? This was a film that was hard to love but easy for this reviewer to admire. Charlie Casanova, I believe, is a film whose stature will increase as the years go by. Its message is one that is too hard to take right now. It also has one of the best central performances of the year in Emmett Scanlon. It is not a perfect film but it is unforgettable, bleak, unsettling and as impressive a low budget debut as I have seen.

The Why didn’t it Make Billions Award – Grabbers

Back at the beginning of the year I did a post about 5 Irish films to see in 2012. When talking about Grabbers I said that it would be likely to be the most financially successful of the films on the list. The premise should have had people flowing to the cinema. A comedy horror set on an island off Ireland in which alcohol had a big part to play, this looked like it couldn’t miss. But audiences in Ireland seemed underwhelmed. This is a real pity as Grabbers is one of the most purely enjoyable Irish films in years. Featuring a very funny script by Kevin Lehane, great direction by Jon Wright and superb special effects for such a low budget this is a film that now seems tailor made for a cult run on DVD.

There were films that were co funded by the Irish Film Board that came out this year such as Shadow Dancer and This Must be the Place. To be honest I was left a bit underwhelmed by both although they were interesting choices for funding. I was not a fan of Albert Nobbs either, finding it dull. Honourable mentions for 2012 include the The Other Side of Sleep and Stella Days. Two films which have played throughout the year at festivals but will not have a general release until 2013 are Citadel and Pilgrim Hill. I have heard good things about both. They will be covered in more detail in a future article about Irish films in 2013.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The War of Independents Film Review #3 - Derelict

The one setting crime thriller has its grubby origins in the low budget end of the spectrum. This is a space also reserved for horror films with similar budgets: decorate the space with plenty of background visuals to hopefully give information to the viewer so you can avoid energy sapping exposition. Only a supremely confident filmmaker and screenwriter will fill a low budget film with dialogue. What immediately springs to mind is Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs. This was low budget by Hollywood standards. Peppering all sorts of pop culture reference throughout his witty, sharp and concise screenplay he makes you enjoy a film about a robbery you never see. This is a difficult thing to do as his imitators showed with films that paled in comparison (Things to do in Denver when you are Dead, Guy Richie’s thrillers)

Frank Kelly’s Derelict takes the one location idea from Reservoir Dogs and filters it through a Tiger kidnapping. A bank manager, his wife and daughter are brought to a derelict factory by four men after a kidnapping. The family are tied up while one of the men leaves with the husband to get to the bank early to get the money. This is unseen and what we are left with is a tension filled real time account of the wait. There is promise in a situation like this. Turn the screws at the right pace and the tension amps up particularly with the usual thriller time constraints. Add to this mix the fact that the main kidnapper and his second in command are estranged brothers and the stage is set for fireworks. Does Derelict deliver on its promise?

The answer is yes but with a couple of caveats. The opening shots of the film set the tone immediately. These are beautifully composed shots of the derelict building empty. It emphasises that the silence and emptiness will soon be interrupted. The gang themselves are introduced in the next scene in a van as they drive towards the building. There are the two brothers J (Michael Bates) and Davey Boy (Steve Gunn) who are sitting up front. Their conversation is fraught and realistic in a very impressive way. There are also the two other guys in the back of the van (who know their place instinctively by being in the back): D (Gerry Shanahan) who is the older robber who should have retired and lastly Tone (Patrick O’Donnell) who is the younger guy with a line in dark humour. This scene is important as not only does it set up the characters it is also one of the only scenes set outside the derelict building.

This is one of the main problems for me. Although I am sure that the film is kept at the building for both budgetary reasons and to amplify the feeling of claustrophobia I did find myself longing for even a small flashback scene to take me out of it for a couple of minutes. This leads onto the other problem I had, namely not having enough invested to care about the wife and daughter tied up. I can’t help thinking that a small flashback scene to develop the family characters (much like the scene in the van establishes the kidnappers) would have benefitted the film greatly. These are minor gripes as the film does work overall.

Much of the fun to be had here is in the relationship between the two brothers and the younger hothead. These scenes crackle with both a sense of dread and dark humour. This is particularly true with J and Davey Boy’s interaction. There is an authenticity here that adds layers to the film. This relationship is superbly written and nicely acted and it is what gives the film its heart, momentum and (as mentioned previously) its tension. The young guy baits the younger brother constantly with some gloriously offensive stuff to see if he snaps and it is very funny. More happens in the film than I want to mention but suffice to say that the kidnapping gets extremely complicated.

The finale of the film is well staged if a little talky as characters give their reasons for why they are doing what they are doing. It is an interesting angle and perspective that chimes with our times but it is slightly over emphasised. Production values are very good for a low budget film and the set is very effective in this regard. There is an effective and edgy soundtrack by Dermot O’Mahony. Overall this is a fine low budget thriller effectively directed by Frank Kelly that doesn’t outstay its welcome. There are big budget thrillers that I wish I could say that about.

Derelict is being shown at the Droichead Arts Centre on January 12th.


Sunday, 28 October 2012

The War of Independents Film Review #2 РLike the Clappers: An Irish Expos̩ on Riding

The mockumentary is perhaps one of the hardest (sub?) genres to get right in film. It is all about balance. For every great Christopher Guest film (Spinal Tap, Best in Show) there are other appalling examples like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno. It is a type of film that is rife with pitfalls. It can become a parody of a parody or it could, depending on the subject matter be offensive. Judge it right, however, and it can be quite brilliant.

As this particular film started and the title came up, I have to admit my heart sank a little. I don’t really recall an Irish mockumentary at all to be honest, never mind a good one. This title seemed to suggest a bawdy, tasteless and painfully unfunny foray into a subject matter that the Irish are not that keen on discussing: sex. So imagine my surprise then when it turned out to be a quite funny and very enjoyable hour’s entertainment.

The film starts off with the presenter of the ‘documentary’ on the Irish porn industry (does this even exist?) talking to camera about his style and previous mistakes. It is a crucial introduction in many ways as he is the only character in this film that we can identify with. He is the Irish everyman for the ages: repressed, easily embarrassed by sex yet there is a lustful vibe just below the surface (this is not a sex pun). During the film he interviews a variety of stock characters about their experiences in the industry. There is the male performer Anthony ‘Pirate Pete’ Reddy (Brian O’Riordan), the sexy older woman Eilish ‘Cherri Roxx’ Moran (Karren O’Rafferty), the delusional Paris Hilton like ‘Irish’ American erotic star Amber ‘Seire’ Moriarty (Zoe Slusar) who dreams of being a brand and lastly Colin Stephens (Tim Casey) who runs Leaprehorn productions. All of the interviews are interspersed.

As mentioned, these are generic characters and with that, there are some parts that work better than others. The best by some distance is Anthony ‘Pirate Pete’ Reddy who is a terrific creation, dispensing some of the most inappropriate anecdotes from his experiences in the porn industry regardless of the questions asked of him. Yes, this is broad sex comedy stuff, which can sometimes be funny just when hearing it with an Irish accent, but there is more here than that. He is brilliant and is missed when off screen. Eilish ‘Cherri Roxx’ Moran is less funny. The actress gives it her all but it mostly consists of hearing an older Irish woman using filthy phraseology. There are a couple of chuckles in there, however. Least successful is the Amber ‘Seire’ segment which gets annoying very quickly (her claim about being one fifteenth Irish made me laugh however). She complains all the time about what she has to endure and it quickly drains the film of momentum. I would like to have seen much less of her and more of the porn movie mogul (in Irish terms) Colin Stephens who runs Leaprehorn productions. It may be the teenager in me, but that pun really works. He talks all too briefly about why he got into the business: basically because Americans were making cod Irish porn productions. This is a really interesting comment on general American film productions set in Ireland such P.S. I Love You and Leap Year. I would like to have seen more of this character but alas he has only one scene. I don’t want to reveal the porn film parody name of the Irish film they he is making but it is very funny.

Overall, there is a funny script by Andrew Anderson and the direction by David Meade is fine for documentary style - if a little bit flat. The production values are low as befits a low budget venture so it is unlikely this will be seen in cinemas. Its running time of just under an hour would also seem to confirm this. But if you happened upon this on Netflix or late night TV in the wee small hours whilst having a few beers, this is the kind of film that would keep you solidly entertained with some good laughs to be had.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The War of Independents Film Review #1 – The Railway Children

Taking its cue from books such as Lord of the Flies, Jason Figgis’ The Railway Children is set nine months after a virus seems to have wiped out all of the adults. Set in a Dublin of damaged homes and roaming children, the story revolves around two sisters who are looking for safe haven amidst the ruins. Older sister Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth) comforts and calms her younger sister Fran (Emily Forster) on their journey by continuously reading the novel The Railway Children out loud. This is a connection to their past lives as their mother would read the book to them. They move from place to place meeting up with groups of other children who are attempting to replicate a version of their parents society. It is this forming and re-forming of alliances which form the backbone of director Jason Figgis’ story.

The film opens with a quite beautiful title sequence. The sound is all radio static, with bursts of music, easily conveying that something is seriously wrong. The visual motif to accompany this is of a block of derelict flats which has window covers with pictures of people living normal lives on them. This is then followed by a familiar, if nicely used, news footage to get the exposition of how the virus spread out of the way before the main story begins. This whole sequence is quite impressive and conveys quite a lot of information in a short space of time. Directly after this, we cut to 9 months later.

It is here where the films contains both its main strengths and weaknesses. The story set in remote Dublin suburbs has an eerie feel that seems to suggest that all the houses around have fallen quickly into disrepair. This would seem to be a nice nod to the ghost estates that have sprung up around our country after our economic collapse. The film is at its most effective when the children are talking about what happened to them as the virus hit. These conversations lead to flashbacks that are quite brilliantly done, especially considering the low budget. They are dark, scary and blackly funny and it is here that Figgis feels at his most confident.

Unfortunately, in the present, aside from teenagers arguing with each other over boyfriends, food rations etc, there is no real sense of threat. The worst seems to have past as there appears to be no undead element to contend with. What this leaves is an absence of tension and this leads to the main problem with the film. There are too many teenage characters with their own speaking parts and back story that it is, at times, difficult to tell them apart. Less characters and dialogue would immediately improve the situation while some wordless scenes of threat would genuinely up the tension. There are simply too many similar characters to care about any of them as they all seem too concerned with their own problems. This is understandable from the characters’ points of view but it can make watching draining at times. This is compounded by the running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. To compare, see One Hundred Mornings which, whilst a different film in tone it covers similar ground in less than 90 minutes. Some pruning could make this film much more effective.

For a low budget end of the world film, Figgis has done quite well here. He has a keen eye for framing scenes and the opening sequence and flashbacks are excellent. Some tidying up of the main story would certainly make this a much more interesting film. The acting is about average for a film with a low budget, ranging from merely ok to decent. Particular praise must go to Emily Forster as Fran who is excellent throughout. Director Jason Figgis is definitely one to keep a look out for in the future.