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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, 22 February 2013

Dublin Film Festival 2013 Reviews - #5 Jump

Jump tells the story of four twenty-somethings whose lives collide one New Year’s Eve in Derry.  It stars Nichola Burley as Greta a young girl with a lot of personal problems. The film opens with her on the Derry Peace Bridge debating whether to jump off or not. We then get a flashback/flash-forward non linear narrative telling us what led to this point.

Remember the Paul Haggis film Crash and the amount of times the same people kept on running into each other? Well that annoyed the hell out of me and sometimes that kind of contrived set up can put you off a film (Crash had other major problems to be honest). Jump suffers from a similar fate. Yes I know Derry is a little smaller than L.A. but the likelihood of all the main characters continuously running into each other is absurd. To say that the story is contrived is really an understatement. Not only do the characters meet a lot but the ways they come together are ridiculous. Worse than that, the intersections are major plot points.

For some people this may be easier to get past but this is not the only problem with Jump. It attempts, unsuccessfully, to marry four distinct genres: the gangster film, a drama, a comedy and a romance. This is impossibly ambitious and it fails on nearly all accounts. The gangster story is clichéd and exhausting, the drama which deals with suicide is underdeveloped. There are a few laughs to be had but not as many as is needed. The central romance is, to give the film credit, unconventional but its pacing is off and the resolution a little too neat in how it sets up the final scene.

This is a film that I could see an undemanding audience enjoy. It is easy on the eye as Derry comes over as very photogenic. But Irish films have to be held to as high a standard as any other. It is not enough to say it is OK ‘for an Irish film’. It should be judged on whether or not it works as a whole. And in this case, it does not. In fairness, it opens well with a great time lapse shot of the Peace Bridge but quickly falls apart. I suspect that it will do well at the cinema. But that will not make it a good film, sadly.

Dublin Film Festival 2013 Reviews - #4 Broken Song

Broken Song, the new documentary from Claire Dix does something that I had noticed in another couple of documentaries (Ballymun Lullaby and Pyjama Girls) I have reviewed on my blog: non judgemental, non patronising and letting the subjects speak for themselves. There is an independent spirit not only in financing but in content and form. When these kinds of subjects are approached in television documentaries, there can sometimes be a patronising and tut-tut attitude. This is not the case here. Broken Song is, for my money, the best of the three and the best film I have seen at the Jameson Dublin Film Festival so far.

Broken Song tells the story of a group of young lads who rap. They are predominantly from the Finglas/Ballymun area of Dublin. Git and Costello have a father/son relationship which they both seem to draw on for lyrical inspiration. They also try to mentor some of the younger kids of the area. This isn’t some amateur effort, the songs are lyrically brilliant, the contents reflecting lives lived and dreams that slipped away. But for the most part the songs are positive with the future figuring heavily. Into this comes singer/songwriter Willa Lee, who has a voice most singers would kill for. But he is also a troublemaker and a little bit too lazy. What they all have in common is talent and a sense of humour that comes across in the film with some proper laughs to be had.

Dix delves lightly into their pasts but without reducing the film to working class misery porn which can happen in films such as this. There is serious talent here and just like in Ballymun Lullaby it is a two fingered assault on an unofficial Government policy of ignoring areas of the city where there are drugs or single mothers etc. The cinematography by Richard Hendricks is quite frankly astonishing for such a budget. Shot in beautiful black and white, Dix and Hendricks use the dark and light motif to great effect. The opening shots of the young lads swimming is done in slow motion and is an early contender for shot of the year.

Refreshingly there is no real build up to a big event that they have to do, to make it. At its heart, Broken Song is a simple story well told. And it is all the better for it. It is a deeply humane and heartfelt work, the kind of film that should get a proper cinema release. It is a film that seems to say that it is never too late to turn your life around no matter who you are. And as Ireland continues to lurch from one crisis to another it is quite an emotive and powerful message to send.

Dublin Film Festival 2013 Reviews - #3 Where I Am

There is an elegant simplicity to Pamela Drynan’s remarkable documentary Where I Am. This is meant by way of praise. There are documentaries I have seen which sometimes feel the need to digitally create or reconstruct the key moments of their stories. This can be done for artistic reasons and it works, but sometimes it is done through a lack of confidence in the strength of the story itself (Project Nim springs instantly to mind). Drynan’s film has a wonderful through-line here: to document the return to Ireland of American writer Robert Drake a decade after he was almost beaten to death and left brain damaged.

Drake, who is gay, was living in Sligo and was savagely set upon in 1999 by two local youths. During the youths’ trial there was an unseemly spin put out that Drake was some sort of sexual predator. After years of rehabilitation Drake can now speak but is in a wheelchair and in need of constant care.  His journey back to Ireland was to see how the lives of his two attackers (who got 8 years in prison) had fared compared to his. This journey is captured in the minutiae of Robert’s life. It is seen best in the efforts made to do the simplest of tasks such as getting out of bed or dressing. But it is not done in a pitying way.

Indeed Robert would not see it that way. He is forgiving, optimistic and genuinely moved to be back in a country that he loves. His carer Butch (hilarious on camera with a real and warm personality) is also this way and they form an unlikely but entertaining screen double act. But there is sorrow and anger beneath the surface. Robert’s partner Kieran who found him after the attack is not so forgiving.

Robert visits Dublin and Sligo and on the way meets various people who he had known and also people who helped in his recovery. There is an overwhelming moment during the film that takes place at a point that is totally unexpected. This works to enhance the moment and deepen the feeling. Where I Am is a film of deep humanity, full of optimism. Robert’s determination to let in light where most would suffer in darkness is a testament to the human spirit. This is a film that deserves a wider release.

Dublin Film Festival 2013 Reviews - #2 The Good Man

The little paragraph that tries to capture a film in a film festival brochure is a fascinating thing: trying to stand out amongst scores more paragraphs all trying to get you to part with your money and see their film. If you are a small Irish film I would imagine it is even more difficult when you are up against some stellar sounding international fare. I had read about The Good Man in the JDIFF brochure and was intrigued. One quick look on the internet and I picked it out as one of my films to see. Its central idea of how two different stories seemingly unconnected, thousands of miles apart, could be brought together successfully, intrigued me.

I am sad to say that The Good Man does not succeed in its goals. The juxtaposition of a successful business man in Belfast (Aidan Gillen) and a student living in the townships of Cape Town is very interesting. The stark contrasts of these two disparate lives are not overplayed and there is thankfully none of the generic wailing song that accompanies many Hollywood depictions of poor people in Africa.  But sadly the film, for the most part, has a script that barely rises above cliché. The direction by Phil Harrison is flat despite the use of some stunning locations. At a short 74 minutes, it really feels like a slightly padded hour long episode of television.

The cast do their best but aside from Gillen and Thabang Sidloyi (who is excellent) as the student Sifiso there is very little else. Kelly Campbell plays Gillen’s wife but it is a part that is barely there. This is all a real pity as the film has an ace up its sleeve that is revealed far too late. There is a scene right at the end that intercuts the two stories in a fascinating and surprising way. But at this stage I had given up on the film and its characters. This may be worth a watch at home on TV but it doesn’t do enough to warrant a trip to the cinema.