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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.

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.


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Film Review - Grabbers (2012)

Some films make you suffer, others make you laugh. A lot of films make you wonder in real terms, how it is possible to spend upwards of $150m and look as bad as they do. There are great comedies just like there are great dramas. The making of films that make you laugh and put a smile on your face is an oft underrated skill. For everyone that pulls it off there are a lot more films that fail spectacularly. So when I had heard that there was to be an Irish comedy horror (rarely good) with special effects on a budget of around £3.5m I worried. That is probably the same as the catering budget on a Transformers movie and look how bad those films turned out. Early reviews from festivals were positive so my worries lessened. But could this tale of monsters on the coast really stand up to the advanced word?

The answer to this is a resounding yes but with a reservation. Whilst there are monsters (insistently called grabbers throughout the film) there is not a huge amount of horror. This a film along the lines of Tremors and Shaun of the Dead. The laughs come in tongue in cheek style ahead of any scares. With this then established, the comedy elements had better be good. In this regard it comes up trumps. The story set up is a classic template: the mismatched cops. In this case there is the hard drinking local Erin Island Garda, Ciaran O’Shea (Richard Coyle) and the quiet professional newly arrived from the mainland Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). Together with local Dr. Smith (Russell Tovey) they investigate the strange goings-on on the island. There are also the assorted island characters to contend with at the local bar such as the local drunk and the married and funny owners of the bar (David Pearse and Bronagh Gallagher).

When it is discovered that the bloodsucking creatures cannot process blood with a certain amount of alcohol in it, a plan is made which could not be more brilliantly Irish: to survive the night they must have a lock-in at the local pub and drink as much as possible. There follows some very funny drinking scenes in the pub. These scenes also ingeniously solve that classic horror film cliché: namely the stupidity of characters who do silly things inexplicably like going towards the creatures. The characters bravery with drink taken works great in this respect and is also very funny. All credit to screenwriter Kevin Lehane for this nice conceit. There is also some gore here but nothing too graphic, while similarly there are some mild scares. But the onus is on the comedy and Lehane’s script shines in this regard.

Ah, the special effects. This is the area that a lot of films with budgets way north of this have come unstuck. A lot of credit must be given to the VFX people at Nvizible who have created quite brilliant effects on such a small budget. This is vital, as bad CGI can affect your viewing of the film. If it too shiny or without heft it can pull you out of the spell of the film. In this case the effects are excellent and really add a sense of scale to the overall feel of the film. Director Jon Wright uses the effects sparingly and very well, adding to the excitement. The cast all acquit themselves well, with a special mention for Ruth Bradley who lights up the screen. There is a real chemistry between the two leads.

Grabbers is a film that has all the ingredients to be a sizeable hit. How Erin Island is filmed is an example of this. It is bathed in an unusual state of perpetual sunshine to maximise the prettiness of the film. Even the name Erin Island conjures up a magical place, with a special eye presumably on the American market. This is no bad thing as it is important to show that we can produce a blockbuster style film in Ireland. That is what is unusual here. There is no real angst on show or what has been referred to in Irish film terms as ‘misery porn’. It doesn’t need it. It is too busy being very entertaining and that is more than enough especially coming in at a nifty 90 odd minutes. The only downside is that we can probably expect poor imitations of this formula in Ireland. If any can be as much fun as this it can only be a good thing for Irish film.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

New film review series: The War of Independents

This has been a pretty good year for Irish film. Quite a few have made it to the cinemas and this is the first year in some time, where there have been deservedly critically acclaimed (Grabbers, What Richard Did, Silence). It is good to see and with luck and good management of funds by the Irish Film Board, let us hope this will continue on a more consistent basis. We need to see more Irish films in the cinemas (particularly in multiplexes) to hopefully get people seeing them on a regular basis. That is the dream. But at the lower end of the scale where the funding does not reach, what kinds of films are being made?

What of the films that have either been rejected by the IFB for funding or were just made with no help whatsoever? Is there an audience for these films? The big question to consider would be: is there an interest in seeing these films and following that is there a platform for viewing? With the rise of VOD services in Ireland such as Netflix and Volta, is there now an opportunity for some of these low budget films to be seen commercially? This brings forth yet another question, namely if you want to read up on such films to help inform you as to whether they are actually worth seeing or not, where do you go?

Well in the spirit of this article I am going to offer just that service. If you want to send me a copy of an independent film you have made for review, please do. For my part I will be fair but honest with my reviews. This may well end up being more about discovering emerging talent than necessarily discovering great films straight away. Please note that due to time constraints I cannot review short films at the moment so please send features only. Also as it is clear by the title of my blog, this is just for Irish independent films. You can contact me on twitter @jaycoyle or leave a message on my blog below this article.

First up for review is a film by Jason Figgis called The Railway Children. I will be watching it this week and reviewing. I have attached the trailer below. 

RAILWAY CHILDREN - Official Trailer from Jason Figgis on Vimeo.