Paul Byrne brings us his highlights of this week – including Transformers 2 and the 2009 Stranger than Fiction Docuemntary Film Festival
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Running at the IFI from June 18th to 21st
The title says it all, the documentary having become one of cinema’s most powerful, intriguing and entertaining genres of the last ten years. From Michael Moore’s diatribes to the Spinal Tap-esque fairytale of Canadian rockers Anvil, Hollywood would be hard pushed to pack such emotion, energy and epiphanies into a dozen $200m blockbusters.
Kicking off Thursday night with The Yes Men Fix The World (18.15), amongst the other Irish premieres, you can find Afghanistan succumbing to Pop Idol fever in Afghan Star (19th, 15.45); why we sometimes treat objects like women in Gary Hustwit’s follow-up to Helvetica, Objectified (19th, 14.00); the wonder of a truly bad movie is explored in Best Worst Movie (19th, 22.00); rock out to ten years of alternative live music in All Tomorrow’s Parties (20th, 21.00); get your head around one of Dublin’s most famous sites with the 12 short films that go to make up The Liberties (21st, 14.15); get inside the mind, and swimming trunks, of overweight, 53-year old superman Martin Strel – who plans to swim the Amazon – in Big River Man (21st, 20.45), and discover what it is that makes us Oirish with a series of archive outings in Irish Communities On Film (19th, 12.15/20th, 12.00).
Directed by Michael Bay. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro.
THE PLOT: If you were to give a 12-year old boy six expressos, and then tell him to quickly imagine the coolest movie in the world, one that fulfills every fantasy he’s ever had, he might just come with Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. An incredibly loud, fast, furious and ultimately forgettable action comedy blockbuster – from the master of incredibly loud, fast, furious and ultimately forgettable action comedy blockbusters, Michael Bay – this is one great, big shiny ball of confusion.
The fact though that all those young boy fantasies are present and correct – giant killer robots, hot triplets on motorbikes, fast cars, tons of metallic hi-tech hardware, slapstick sidekicks (of the Jar-Jar Binks variety), shagging doggies, bumbling parents (including one stoned MILF), and Megan Fox’s ass – means that there is an audience out there who will lap this up. And then, most likely, completely forget it. Ten minutes after this onslaught was over, I still wasn’t sure what the storyline was about. I think it had something to do with alien robots trying to set their controls for a fart at the sun. Or thereabouts.
THE VERDICT: With the $702,272,592 take of the 2007 outing still kachinging in the studio’s – and producer Steven Spielberg’s – ears, Bay is given a little more rope here (the budget jumping from $150m to $200m). And he promptly suffocates what little charm that first outing possessed with as much CGI crash, bang, wallop as Industrial Light & Magic can muster.
There’s really very little that returning leads, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, can do except run, skip and jump around the explosions and deep-throated battle-cries as the caring, sharing Autobots once again go into battle with the uncaring, unsharing Decepticons. Only John Turturro manages to shine here, bringing something approaching comic relief with the film’s few actual zingers (“What you are about to see is highly classified – don’t tell my mum!”).
Like previous Bay outing, the abysmal Bad Boys II – although the not-all-that-dissimilar Men In Black II is a more fitting comparison – this plays like a nagging two-and-half-hour trailer for a decent one-and-a-half-hour movie.RATING: **
Directed by John Huston. Starring Donal McCann, Angelica Huston, Dan O’Herlihy, Donal Donnelly, Helena Carroll.
THE PLOT: Dublin, 1904, and Freddie Malins (McCann) arrives at a small New Year’s Eve party a little worse for wear and tear. Much to his mother’s disgust. As the dinner winds down and the guests depart, there is a truly sobering moment in store for Freddie when a song stirs memories for his wife (Angelica Huston) of a dear, departed childhood sweetheart.
THE VERDICT: What can you say about this truly beautiful 1987 outing that is not just a fitting tribute to the late Donal McCann – one of the finest actors Ireland has ever produced – but also to the legendary John Huston, whose last film this is. The former Galway native no doubt wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. This haunting film deserves to be seen on the big screen, Huston’s take on the James Joyce short story a moving hymn to loved ones who have passed on, and the sweet melancholy of the life we might have had. RATING: *****
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa. Starring Rade Sherbedgia, Stephen Dillane, Rosamund Pike, Robbie Kay.
THE PLOT: The story deals with 7-year old Polish Jew Jakob Beer (Robbie Kay) being rescued from the Holocaust by archaeologist Athos Roussos (Rade Sherbedgia) and smuggled to Greece. Jump to thirty years later, and Jakob (Stephen Dillane) lives in Toronto, a Holocaust historian who’s still mourning the passing of Athos when he marries the wild and wonderful Alex (Rosamund Pike). Recurring nightmares about the family he lost as a boy haunt Jakob though, and he is soon single once again.
From there, we leap between Jakob’s early years in Greece, and his time now… **
THE VERDICT: Based on poet Anne Michael’s acclaimed prose-poem of the same name, Fugitive Pieces (Canada/Greece/Club/104mins) is a furtive piece of filmmaking that is entirely admirable if not wholly enjoyable.
It was always going to be a difficult work to adapt, but director Jeremy Podeswa clearly relishes difficult challenges (he previously gave us The Five Senses), and he certainly gets close to capturing his fellow Canadian’s much-loved 1996 offering. The only trouble is, this plays like an adaptation. Of a difficult prose-poem. RATING: ***
Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Starring Maja Ostaszewska, Artur Zmijewski, Andrzej Chyra, Danuta Stenka.
THE PLOT: Concentrating on various storylines relating to the eponymous 1940 massacre (that saw 22,000 Polish Army officers, policemen, intellectuals and civilian posters slain by the Soviets), the core here would appear to be the tale of Anna (Maja Ostaszewska), arriving at the eastern border of Poland in 1939 in search of her husband Andrzej (Artur Zmijewski) – only trouble is, Andrzej would rather stay with his calvary regiment. Little did he know, of course, that they would end up being captured by the invading Soviet army and shipped east to Katyn. Elsewhere, a local celebrity will secure his escape from certain death by openly blaming the massacre to the Nazis, whilst his two sisters take up opposing stances toward the new postwar regime.
THE VERDICT: Nominated for an Oscar earlier last year, Katyn deals with a massacre that was denied by the Soviet Union until 1990.
The fact that noted Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda is the son of one of those slain at Katyn would suggest a film high on emotion, but Katyn proves to be a surprisingly sedate and sombre affair. Unsurprisingly, it proved a major success in Poland, but that was purely the Michael Collins effect. Truth is, this is nowhere near as rivetting or rousing as Neil Jordan’s masterful 1996 biopic.
It’s a film that doesn’t try to exploit the sentimentality inherent in such stories, instead taking an objective view of a chilling moment of horror in a country’s history that still resonates in Poland today. Not recommended for that first date. Unless your potential beloved happens to be Polish, of course. RATING: ***