HANDSOME DEVIL (Ireland/15A/95mins) Directed by John Butler. Starring Andrew Scott, Michael McElhatton, Ardal O’Hanlon, Amy Huberman, Fionn O’Shea THE PLOT: Ned (Fionn O’Shea) decides to try and get kicked out of boarding school, so he can be free to live life away from the bullies that make his life difficult. All of this changes, however, when Ned’s new roommate Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) shows that far from just being rugby obsessed like the rest of the school, he is also into music and art, meaning he and Ned become firm friends. When rumours about sexuality begin to circulate in the school and teachers start getting involved in the boys’ friendship, Ned makes a public declaration that may just lose him the only friend he has. THE VERDICT: Directed by John Butler, who previously brought us ‘The Stag’, ‘Handsome Devil’ is a charming comedic film, which also addresses issues of identity and sexuality in a light and engaging manner.
Fionn O’Shea leads the cast as Ned, the outcast who does not fit in with the rest of his rugby obsessed classmates, and is constantly being accused of being gay. Far from making Ned a retiring wallflower, however, O’Shea manages to make the character cheeky, ballsy and charming, and not afraid to stand up for himself while making it known that he prides himself in the things that make him different. Nicholas Galitzine makes Conor more mysterious and stand offish, but the chemistry he has with O’Shea makes the friendship between the two boys seem real and relatable. Andrew Scott has a scene stealing role as English teacher Dan Sherry, and while it may seem as though too much was borrowed from Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poet’s Society, Scott makes the character work as a leader, a catalyst for change and someone that the kids look up to. Michael McElhatton obviously has fun as head teacher Walter Curley, Moe Dunford shows off an aggression and closed mindedness as rugby coach Pascal, while Ardal O’Hanlon and Amy Hubermann have smaller roles as Ned’s parents.
As writer, it is clear that John Butler has mined his own personal experiences for ‘Handsome Devil’, as the film feels deeply personal when it comes to Ned being the outsider who doesn’t mind all that much that he is. There are times when plot elements seem to appear out of nowhere, which is slightly jarring, as is the idea that the audience can never be quite sure which era the film is set in. That said, the relationships between the characters feel real, there is plenty of comedy and heart, and it is great to see an Irish head teacher be firm, but not cruel with his students.
As director, John Butler struggles sometimes to balance the comedy and the darker, more relevant issues throughout the film, but when these come together, they come together well, making the film that little more layered and charming. The performances are strong, particularly from Scott and his two young students, and anyone who went to school in Ireland will be able to relate to the shenanigans that go on both in and out of class.
In all, ‘Handsome Devil’ is a light, charming comedy that addresses darker issues underneath the slightly familiar surface. The cast are strong, the laughs a plenty, but a stronger balance between secrets and comedy could have turned Handsome Devil from a strong film to a great one. As it stands, however, ‘Handsome Devil’ is a charming tale of friendship, acceptance… And rugby. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
RULES DON’T APPLY (USA/12A/127mins) Directed by Warren Beatty. Starring Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen. THE PLOT: In 1959, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) comes to LA to be an actress under contract to movie and aviation mogul Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). Marla initially falls for her driver, a young man named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) who is expressly forbidden from having dalliances with any of the contracted actresses. When Marla finally meets the reclusive Hughes, however, her relationship with the eccentric billionaire takes an unexpected turn. THE VERDICT: Director and writer Warren Beatty has wanted to make a film about Howard Hughes for over forty years, after seeing Hughes in a hotel lobby and becoming fascinated with him. Although there are elements of truth to ‘Rules Don’t Apply’, it is difficult to tell where truth and fiction meet, and just what story Beatty is trying to tell.
‘Rules Don’t Apply’ has a stellar cast, including Oliver Platt, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Steve Coogan, Paul Schneider and Ed Harris in supporting roles, with Warren Beatty taking on the role of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Beatty looks little like Hughes, and although he tries to get Hughes’ eccentricities right, they come off as the whims of a powerful man and thoughtlessness, rather than any kind of illness. Alden Ehrenreich as Frank, is a little wishy washy. While Ehrenreich has the right look for the time period, he constantly struggles against a strange script and choppy editing, never managing to make his character feel truly real. The same goes for Lily Collins as Marla Mabry, who has a certain charm to her, but lacks the charm that the film seems to think she has.
Warren Beatty’s screenplay makes sure to include real events throughout ‘Rules Don’t Apply’, such as the loan of $205,000 to Richard Nixon’s brother Donald, his hermit-like life in Las Vegas and the Beverly Hills Hotel, and in particular, the memoir hoax by Clifford Irving – renamed Richard Miskin for the sake of this film. It is hard to tell how much of the remaining story is based on truth, and it is very difficult to find a throughline in the story to grasp onto, since the film is as choppy and messy as it seems that Hughes’ mental state was toward the end of his life. There are potentially three stories running through ‘Rules Don’t Apply’; the potential affair between a younger actress and the older billionaire, the love triangle between Hughes, Frank and Marla, and the legal and money troubles faced by Hughes toward the end of his life. All three plots end up vying for the audience’s attention, with none of them naturally coming to the fore.
As director, Warren Beatty never seems sure what he wants the focus of the film to be; the editing means that the story is choppy, messy and often hard to grasp onto, and while it may seem that the film is cut to be a comedy, there are precious little laughs to be had, while the important scenes vanish too quickly from the screen. The performances in the film are fine, with the supporting cast perhaps doing better than the leads, but the entire affair feeling messy and not well thought out.
In all, ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ is never sure if it is trying to be a biopic, a love triangle or a comedy, and the choppy editing never allows the audience to grasp onto any important part of the story, leaving them trailing in the film’s incredibly chaotic wake. RATING: 1.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE TRANSFIGURATION (USA/TBC/97mins) Directed by Michael O’Shea. Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Lloyd Kaufmann, Larry Fessenden, Dangelo Bonneli, Danny Flaherty THE PLOT: 14 year old Milo (Eric Ruffin) lives alone with his brother; his mother having committed suicide and their father having died when Milo was young. A quiet and lonesome teenager, Milo is harbouring a dark secret; he believes himself to be a vampire. THE VERDICT: ‘The Transfiguration’ is a film from first time director Michael O’Shea. The film is an examination of grief, loss and the feeling of being an outsider, through the lens of one of the most romantic and isolated mythical creatures of all time; the vampire.
Eric Ruffin is magnetic in the lead role as Milo; quiet and gentle, Milo just wants to be left alone to watch violent nature videos on YouTube until he befriends another outsider in his neighbourhood, Sophie (Chloe Levine). Ruffin makes Milo a curious character, and easily conveys the swings in his beliefs and thought processes, even as he vomits blood and walks around in the day time, the audience is engaged with the fact that he believes himself to be something other than human. As well as this, Ruffin makes Milo’s emotional detachment something for the audience to engage with, as we struggle to learn more about this strange character. Chloe Levine makes Sophie an average teenager; slightly older than Milo she is not fazed by much, even when he consistently talks about vampires she takes this on board, recommending he read her favourite vampire book; ‘Twilight’. Levine makes Sophie feel real, and like any other normal teenager who doesn’t quite understand the world around her yet. The rest of the cast features Dangelo Bonneli, Danny Flaherty and Aaron Clifton Moten, with cameos from horror filmmakers Lloyd Kaufman and Larry Fessenden.
Michael O’Shea’s screenplay deliberately leaves the truth about Milo ambiguous, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the character, even as he kills and drinks blood. The story is clearly one of Milo coming to terms with the death of his mother by suicide, as is made clear through Milo’s vampire mythology – vampirism is a disease you contract; you don’t have to be bitten – and explains his emotional detachment from the world around him. The dialogue feels natural, with the teens talking about books, films and the tragedies that have marred their young lives, and how they relate to the world around them.
As director, Michael O’Shea makes a new kind of vampire film in ‘The Transfiguration’. All slow paced and slow build, the film is one that sucks – sorry! – the audience in and keeps us intrigued to find out just what is happened to this withdrawn boy who has no problem with violence and death. The performances are strong, the cinematography underlining just how alone Milo and Sophie feel in the world they cannot really relate to, and the music is used sparingly to great and chilling effect. Setting ‘The Transfiguration’ in an unstylised, natural feeling world is what makes it so special, since this teen could be someone living next door, and his struggle could well happen to any one of us if we were emotionally neglected enough.
In all, ‘The Transfiguration’ is a slow building vampire drama, that makes its greatest statements through ambiguity. The cast are strong and although the pacing is slow, this underlines the isolation the characters feel and builds to a satisfying and surprising end. Keep an ear out for the name Michael O’Shea; you will be hearing it again. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THEIR FINEST (UK/12A/117mins) Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Clafin, Bill Nighy, Rachel Stirling, Jeremy Irons. THE PLOT: During World War II, a British film company sets out to make an “authentic and uplifting” film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. Screenwriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) joins the crew to bring a female perspective to the story of twins Lily (Lily Knight) and Rose (Francesca Knight) Starling, who sailed a small boat to France to rescue Allied troops, and finds herself facing some truths of her own. THE VERDICT: Based on the novel ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ by Lissa Evans, Their Finest follows the great traditions of films about making films, such as’ Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Shadow of the Vampire’ and ‘Hail Caesar!’, and has fun with the idea that this crew are struggling to uplift the entire country while going through their own struggles at the same time.
Gemma Arterton leads the cast as Caterin Cole and although she struggles with the Welsh accent from time to time, Arterton is a charming lead, a woman who stands up for herself although she is too innocent at times. Bill Nighy plays ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard who has yet to come to terms with the fact that his best roles may be behind him. Nighy brings most of the comedy and light heartedness to the story, and obviously has fun with the character and his delusions. Sam Clafin plays the gruff Buckley; a screenwriter who has a heart of gold buried under his cool exterior and Rachel Stirling has fun with the butch, brash and no-nonsense Phyl Moore. The rest of the cast features Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsan, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, PauL Ritter and Richard E. Grant.
Gaby Chiappe’s screenplay has fun with the film about movies element of the story, exploring the business of show business and how women were allowed to slot into this world during WWII. As well as this, Their Finest is a love story between two unlikely partners, which has a lot of charm and charisma; making the audience root for an unusual love in unusual times. There is plenty of comedy to keep the film light, but a great balance with the darker moments that make the film emotionally deep and memorable. There are times when the script is a little flabby, with scenes seemingly inserted because they were present in the book, but do little to keep the film on track. As well as this, a third act tragedy is not only shocking, but feels as though it comes out of nowhere.
As director Lone Scherfig, whose previous films include ‘The Riot Club’ and ‘An Education’, keeps the film moving at a good speed, and obviously revels in the fact that ‘Their Finest’ takes place against the backdrop of war, but not actually as part of it, even though conflict and death infuse every scene in the film. There are some wonderful visual moments – such as mannequins lying in the road after a bomb hits London – but a tighter hand could have not only made sure the film was edited well, but given it the extra push it needed to go from good to wonderful.
In all, there is a lot to love in ‘Their Finest’; most of the cast are on wonderful form, especially Nighy, McCrory and Stirling, and there is a great balance between comedy and tragedy throughout the film. There are times when Their Finest feels a little flabby, and a tighter edit would have benefitted the film greatly. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI (Finland | Sweden | Germany/TBC/92mins) Directed by Juho Kuosmanen. Starring Jarkko Lahti, Pia Andersson, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, John Bosco Jr. THE PLOT: In 1962, Finnish boxer Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti) faced the biggest fight of his career against US fighter Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr.). Although Maki’s trainer promises him that the day he beats the American wil; be the happiest day of his life, Olli quickly feels the pressure of an entire nation looking to him to validate their national pride, and even worse; Olli has just fallen in love, and finds his loyalties torn. THE VERDICT: Finland’s submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film this year, and shot in 16mm black and white, ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ is not quite the quirk-fest that the title may have you believe, but a boxing film that manages to shake off every cliché in the book to be a genuinely touching and warm story.
Jarkko Lahti leads the cast as Olli Maki, making the character gentle and sweet, and seemingly entirely confused as to why he is the subject of so much attention. Lahti makes it clear that Maki never thought that fighting would lead to such fame and pressure, and he struggles with this throughout the film. The rest of the cast features Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, John Bosco Jr and Pia Andersson. The real life Olli and Raija Maki also make a blink and you miss it appearance in the film.
Based on the true story of Olli Maki’s life, and written for the screen by Mikko Myllylahti and Juho Kuosmanen, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a wonderful thing; a boxing movie with none of the clichés. In fact, as Myllylahti and Kuosmanen have written the story, the film is actually an examination of when national pride turns to national pressure. Of course, there are moments when Olli feels rather like the stereotypical millennial, as it seems that all he wants to do is hang out with his girlfriend, but even this is presented in a charming and gentle manner, that actually adds to the character of Olli Maki, rather than turning audiences against him.
Director Juho Kuosmanen makes sure that ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ is a film about boxing and the glory that can come with boxing on a national level, but he also makes the film a story of expectations and reality. The film is well paced with comedic moments carefully peppered throughout, and the sense of Olli reaching breaking point is almost tangible.
In all, ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ is a charming little boxing movie that shakes off all of the clichés created by films of the past. The story is charming and Jarkko Lehti is great in the lead role. The film is a little gem that deserves to be seen. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes