We review this week’s new cinema releases, including NIGHTCRAWLER, OUIJA and ONE MILLION DUBLINERS…
Directed by Dan Gilroy. Starring Jake Gllenhaal, Rene Russo, Michael Pena.
THE PLOT: Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a driven young man struggling for money and desperate to find a career. When he happens on a road traffic accident on the streets of LA, the camera crew that arrives on the scene and films the whole event fascinates him. Inspired, Lou hires Rick (Riz Ahmed) as an intern, and sets out to make a name for himself as a freelance crime journalist.
THE VERDICT: Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom as a calculating and unscrupulous character; one that audiences will root for, but find themselves despising. Lou stalks the streets of LA like a vampire; preying on victims and revelling in their blood. Money seems to be the motivator, but it quickly becomes clear that Bloom is motivated by power and gore. Gyllenhaal allows the audience to root for the character – even though he is quickly revealed to be someone who lacks a moral compass – and slowly reveals that there is a lot more darkness and danger underneath the surface of this man, who gets a thrill out of seeing his footage on TV, drags bodies into different places for the sake of a good shot, and regurgitates phrases seemingly gleaned from the pages of self help books; phrases that sound great but in reality, mean little at all.
Rene Russo plays a character as dark and damaged as Lou Bloom, and it is through Nina’s mentorship and encouragement that Bloom is allowed to go to hideous lengths for the sake of a story. Riz Ahmed plays Rick; a young homeless man, so desperate for a job that he agrees to work with Bloom for a mere $30 a night. Ahmed’s performance throws Gyllenhaal’s into stark relief, and it is through the characters’ interactions that we learn more about Lou and the world he has created around himself.
The story, written by Dan Gilroy could be a rather straightforward thriller, but it is through the twists and turns made by Lou Bloom that this becomes a story of LA, and a man who is as twisted and dangerous as the city itself. In fact, Bloom and LA complement one another; LA with its dangerous crime levels, and Lou who feeds off these. It is a parasitic relationship and it is a remarkably funny, gripping and oddly touching story.
As director, Dan Gilroy has created a film that hinges on the relationship between Bloom and LA. Gilroy allows Gyllenhaal to take centre stage, with the rest of the characters orbiting around him. Nightcrawler is dark and atmospheric, and tension is slowly built through the 117 minute running time. Robert Elswit’s cinematography adds to the experience, keeping the film as dark but sparkling as LA itself, with gorgeous sequences at night, smooth and fluid shots of cars and a gentle reminder to the audience that the only thing that matters is what’s on Bloom’s screen.
NIGHTCRAWLER is a dark yet surprisingly funny look under the hood of crime video journalism. Gyllenhaal gives his strongest performance in years as the methodical, uncompromising Lou Bloom, and his supporting cast do a beautiful job, Ahmed, in particular, shines through the murky world of the screen. Gilroy’s direction and Elswit’s cinematography combine to form a frightening, dark yet sparkly whole.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Stiles White. Starring Erin Moriarty, Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Shelley Hennig, Sierra Heuermann, Sunny May Allison, Lin Shaye, Claudia Katz.
THE PLOT: Having first begun playing with a Ouija board as bored best buddies, years later, hot blonde Debbie (Hennig) is suddenly, strangely reclusive. Followed quickly by suddenly, strangely dead, hanging from the upstairs banister of the family home. The fact that the interior designer seems to be Stanley Kubrick (no bulb can be over 10 watts) and the landscape gardener David Lynch (white picket fence included, of course) should have been warning enough that this would not be a happy home, but Debbie’s bestest bud, Laine (Cooke) – who, thankfully, also grew up to be incredibly hot – nonetheless reckons dusting down that Hasbro toy is the only way to find out what really happened. Tagging along is Debbie’s suspiciously quiet boyfriend, Pete (Smith), her punky little sis (Coto) and assorted other teen disposables. Soon, there’s an onslaught of bumps in the night, and it’s not our beloved Debbie saying hi…
THE VERDICT: Harking back to the pre-SCREAM teen horror flick, where you’re always two steps ahead of the young protagonists, and one step away from heading to the pub early, there are no real shocks in OUIJA. Other than the fact that people still flock to such schlock (it opened at no.1 in the US last week, bagging €20m). Corny enough to be satire – this all-American town seems to have a ban on fat or ugly people – without ever being funny enough to raise a laugh, Ouija plays it crushingly straight. So, you’re left feeling little for these teenagers who constantly put themselves in peril.
If you’re looking for real horror this Halloween, go see THE GUARANTEE instead.
Review by Paul Byrne
ONE MILLION DUBLINERS (Ireland/PG/82mins)
Directed by Aoife Kelleher. Starring Shane MacThomais, George McCullough, Martin Galligan, Edward Madigan, Veronique Crombe, Claire Hickey.
THE PLOT: As we open on a crack-of-dawn visit by a busload of American tourists plucked straight from the airport, the witty, passionate tour guide Shane MacThomais takes us through the history, restoration and capitalisation of Glasnevin Cemetery. Perhaps Dublin’s most famous resting place, Glasnevin Cemetery opened in 1832, and among its 1.2m inhabitants are the likes of Michael Collins, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Luke Kelly. Which may explain the 200,000 annual visitors. And why it’s as much a theme park as a graveyard these days.
Amongst the most interesting visitors is French art historian Veronique Crombe, who has travelled to Ireland six or seven times a year since seeing Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins biopic in 2001, using each day of her holidays here to leave a red rose on Michael Collins’ grave. Every Valentine’s Day, she’s got competition, as Collins’ grave is covered in love letters and flowers from not-so-secret admirers. He’s our Jim Morrison.
THE VERDICT: A light documentary on a potentially dark subject, One Million Dubliners is an engaging, good-natured walk among Dublin’s most famous tombstones. And lucky for us – and filmmaker Aoife Kelleher – holding our hand for most of it is Glasnevin Cemetery tour guide Shane MacThomais.
Both fly-on-the-wall and maggot-in-the-ground, ONE MILLION DUBLINERS offers up many fascinating stories, most of them to do with how the here and now deals with the past. It’s enough to know that the likes of Luke Kelly and Michael Collins have their graveyard groupies; Kelleher isn’t about to give us the history, just its strong effect on the present.
Still, this feels like a warm tribute to MacThomais as much as anything else, a tour guide who clearly loved his job. Early on, MacThomais got advice from his father on how to be a good tour guide – tell them something that they know, tell them something that they don’t know, tell them something that will make them laugh, and tell them something that will make them cry. It’s an approach that seems to work pretty well here for Aoife Kelleher too.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE OVERNIGHTERS (USA/Light House/102mins)
Directed by Jess Moss. Starring Keegan Edwards, Jay Reinke, Alan Mezo.
THE PLOT: The small American town of Williston, North Dakota, and pastor Jay Reinke is determined to put a roof over the head of the thousands of men who arrive seeking work in the booming oil industry there. That many of these men are regarded as drifters has the town’s folk edgy about their presences, especially in light of the murder of a local schoolteacher in 2012 by two such new arrivals. With fear and mistrust rife amongst his neighbours, and the troubled nature of some of those he is attempting to help, it’s a struggle for Reinke. Organising a town meeting, where the two sides can come together, seems like a step in the right direction, but even calling door-to-door with an invite can be difficult task for the pastor, as he’s sometimes met with verbal abuse…
THE VERDICT: A small American town with a universal problem, where a settled community struggles with having the unsettled living amongst them, THE OVERNIGHTERS touches on the many layers of that great divide between the haves and the have-nots, especially in times of recession. Shot over 18 months at the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota, THE OVERNIGHTERS tells a hundred stories, many similar, but all different. What pulls them together here is Pastor Reinke, and his seemingly ceaseless quest to help these often broken men rebuild their lives. That his own wife and kids are behind such efforts is touching. And when it is revealed that Reinke is battling a dark secret of his own, proceedings take a dramatic twist…
Moss has spoken of Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA as a major influence, and certainly THE OVERNIGHTERS will stand a definitive document of America’s recent socioeconomic woes.
Review by Paul Byrne
MR TURNER (UK/12A/150mins)
Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey.
THE PLOT: Mike Leigh takes is on an exploration of the final 25 years of the great painter JMW Turner’s life.
THE VERDICT: The idea of making a film about a famous painter’s life is an interesting one; much like Blur and Oasis in the 1990s, these artists had professional rivalries, and did not work in utter isolation as we may think. The trouble is, that JMW Turner’s life may have been interesting, but this is not truly shown in mike Leigh’s film.
Timothy Spall huffs and harrumphs his way through his role as the titular character; although the novelty of deciphering Spall’s grunts quickly wears off, this is a strong performance from the actor, as he shows genuine tenderness and cruel mockery, often within the same scene. The rest of the cast is equally as strong, Paul Jesson plays the elder Mr Turner with care and gentleness, Marion Bailey allows silence to pervade the screen as Mrs Booth, and Dorothy Atkinson gives a strong yet almost stoic performance as Turner’s long time housekeeper – and sometime sex partner – Hannah Danby.
Dick Pope’s cinematography is simply beautiful; instead of trying to replicate the wonderful swathes of colour and light shown in Turner’s work, he instead allows the audience to fill in the blanks, and make the connections between what the film shows and what Turner paints. Pope allows darkness and light to balance throughout the film, and makes the coastal scenes bright and beautiful.
Where the film falls down, however, is in the story. There has to have been some fascination with Turner’s life for the film to be made in the first place – perhaps the double life he led, or the fact that he could paint such beauty but be unable to eloquently communicate with people through language, or perhaps the endeavour he undertook that endangered his life; strapping himself to the mast of a ship during a storm – but while all of these are present in the film, none is allowed to take centre stage, leaving the film adrift in 25 years of a character’s life, without a theme or event to tie it all together. Admittedly, there are times when Leigh’s script is surprisingly funny, and shakes off some of the preconceptions the audience has, but this is not enough to make the film anything more than a series of curiosities.
As director, Leigh coaxes strong performances from his actors, and each of them truly inhabits the character they take on. Spall is impressive in his stomping, spitting, grunting role, and manages to show this gruff, abrasive character’s gentler and more caring side. Without a strong story to the script, however, Spall et al can stomp and simper all they like, but the film lacks the structure to support them. However, with a 150 minute run time, there is plenty of time to wonder at the lack of plot.
MR TURNER is a beautifully shot film that is populated with strong performances from great actors. The truly enraging thing, however, is the complete lack of plot, development or story, leaving us with a protagonist who never changes and a film that is funny at times, but ultimately pointless.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE GUARANTEE (Ireland/15A/75mins)
Directed by Ian Power. Starring Orla Fitzgerald, Peter Coonan, Daid Murray, Gary Lydon
THE PLOT: In September 2008, the Irish government guaranteed Irish banks, effectively protecting them from failure at a high cost to the taxpayer. The decision to guarantee so-called ‘Toxic Banks’ was taken overnight, but the trouble began years beforehand. THE GUARANTEE takes a look at the fateful night in 2008, which changed the face of Irish banking, and the years that led up to this.
THE VERDICT: If you are an Irish person over the age of 18, you will have heard of the banking crisis that contributed to the worst recession seen in years, and the panic that surrounded it; including the claim that if this was not done, there would have been no money in Irish ATMs the following day. Chances are you will have also debated taking all your money out of Irish banks and hiding it under your mattress, since the sky was falling and we were all screwed. Six years later, we know this was not quite the case, and while THE GUARANTEE tries to refresh our collective memory, there is really nothing here we have not seen before.The performances in the film are, for the most part, fine. It’s hard to play the role of a well-known Irish politician in an Irish film without the performance turning into caricature, but this is just about avoided in THE GUARANTEE. Some of the talking heads are a little ridiculous though, as are the choices to make some of the group scenes look and feel like a theatre production, rather than a fully-fledged feature film. As well as this, some of the characters are introduced to the audience, but we are left to figure out who the others are. Not saying that we have a selective memory of the past, but trying to figure out who people are from the decisions they make is more than a little distracting.
THE GUARANTEE is based on a stage play, and is adapted for the screen by the play’s author Colin Murphy. The screenplay tries to untangle much of the jargon surrounding banking, to make it easier to follow, but in focusing much of the film’s time on the lead up to the crisis, it loses its punch. MARGIN CALL succeeded because it took place inside the negotiations of a failing investment bank, but much of the actually guaranteeing of THE GUARANTEE takes place behind closed doors, which takes much of the intensity out of the film. As well as this, there is very little in the film that has not been released into the public domain already, so THE GUARANTEE tells audiences little that they don’t already know.
Director Ian Power just about makes THE GUARANTEE a watchable affair, but there are times when the performances don’t match up; some actors feel as though they are in a stage play and others, a TV movie of the week. The film feels rather messy, with focus given to the wrong moments, leaving THE GUARANTEE muddled and rather more confusing than the real life events.
THE GUARANTEE is a film made for those who hid their heads in the sand at the time of the crisis six years ago. For the rest of us, THE GUARANTEE does not tell us anything we don’t already know, focuses its energies in the wrong places and feels a little too much like a stage play to fully work on the big screen. A shame; there is a story here, but THE GUARANTEE is a missed opportunity.
Review by Brogen Hayes