THE QUEEN OF IRELAND (Ireland/15A/86mins) Directed by Conor Horgan. Starring Rory O’Neill, Mark O’Halloran, Una Mullally, Declan Buckley, Tonie Walsh. THE PLOT: Filmmaker Conor Horgan began making a documentary about performer Rory O’Neill – perhaps better known as his drag persona Panti Bliss – in 2010. The film follows O’Neill as he looks back over his life, as the furore surrounding his 2014 appearance on the Saturday Night Show takes off, and through the campaign for a yes vote in the Marriage Equality referendum earlier this year. THE VERDICT: There is little doubt that Rory O’Neill/Panti Bliss is one of Ireland’s most gifted, outspoken and vibrant performers, but the story that emerges throughout The Queen of Ireland is of a young gay man from a small town, trying to find a place he feels at home in an Ireland where homosexuality has not yet been decriminalised. O’Neill is frank and funny throughout the entire film, as well as being wonderfully self aware of his self appointed role; “My job as a drag queen is to commentate from the fringes, to stand on the outside looking in shouting abuse”.
The film charts O’Neill’s life from his childhood through his time at art college, his move to Tokyo and how it felt to come back to Ireland when being gay was no longer a crime – homosexuality was officially decriminalised in Ireland in 1993. In telling his own personal story, O’Neill charts modern history in Ireland, and the changes that the country has gone through in the past 20-30 years. Yes, the film is told through O’Neill’s life, but it could easily be told through the eyes of any young gay person growing up in Ireland, and this is what makes the film so special, and so relatable.
The second half of ‘The Queen of Ireland’ focuses on the Pantigate affair and the fallout from this. Although there is a moment where those unaware of what actually happened could be confused, it is clear that the filmmakers found themselves in a bind, and could not be seen to repeat the statements made by O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show without opening themselves up to legal action. This does mean that the event is not fully explained, but the fact that this led to Panti accidentally becoming, in her words, a “National F***ing Treasure” and the accidental face of the Marriage Equality Campaign means that it lends some context to the film.
The film is filled with faces from O’Neill’s life; his parents, sister and friend Niall Sweeney appear, as well as LGBT Rights Activist Tonie Walsh, actor and screenwriter Mark O’Halloran, journalist Una Mulally and fellow drag queen Declan Buckley, also known as Shirley Temple Bar. These people not only give an insight into O’Neill as a person, but also into life in Ireland as gay people, and just what a yes vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum could mean for Ireland and Irish people.
In all, ‘The Queen of Ireland’ is not only the captivating story of a hilarious and honest performer, but it is also the story of Ireland over the past number of years. O’Neill is frank, hilarious and engaging at the centre of the film, but the thing that makes ‘The Queen of Ireland’ truly special is the feeling that while this is the story of Panti, it is also the story of everyone who lives in Ireland, and the change we brought about when we galvanised behind, as O’Neill puts it, a man in a dress who has no fear of saying the unsayable. ‘The Queen of Ireland’ has a couple of wobbles here and there, but is, on the whole, a moving, engaging and honest piece of work. RATING: 5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MISSISSIPPI GRIND (USA/15A/108mins) Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Starring Ben Mendlesohn, Ryan Reynolds, Yvonne Landry, Anthony Howard, Jayson Warner Smith, James Toback. THE PLOT: Down amongst the makers and griftrs, Gerry (Mendlesohn) is struggling to keep his head above water on the poker table. The guy is plainly in it for the long game, but he’s paying a price, with at least one failed marriage and a great big hunk of burgeoning debts to prove it. He owes “a lot” to “everyone”.
When the casually brazen and seemingly blessed Curtis (Reynolds) happens into his life, Gerry reckons his four aces may have finally come in. With his good luck charmer putting up the money, and Gerry putting his years of poker grindstone on the line, the two head off on a road trip to bring in the millions. Only, you know, you don’t always get dealt the hand you’d hoped for… THE VERDICT: Movies about card sharks who just can’t get a proper bite in life are ten-a-penny-ante, but filmmakers are still finding something highly seductive about this life of near-crime. Even really smart filmmakers like Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously went down the rabbit hole of everyday drug addiction in 2006’s ‘Half Nelson’ and taking the long ball at glory in the minor-leagues in 2008’s ‘Sugar’.
Here, the filmmaking duo are helped enormously in their task of shining a light into the dark, dank shadows of do-or-die poker by the great Ben Mendlesohn, one of the finest character actors working today. Box-office refugee Reynolds is well-cast too, in a role that would have fitted Ryan Gosling even better if he hadn’t pretty much played this character already in the criminally underrated ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ (2011). As the duo slip from Newman and Redford to Cruise and Hoffman, the drama darkens and deepens.
Casting legendary director James Toback as a legendary player is a nice touch (this is the man who gave us 1974’s ‘The Gambler’, after all), but, ultimately, it makes you realise that Boden and Fleck never quite reach the depths of those 1970s American dramas that they’re apeing here. RATING: 3/5 Review by Paul Byrne
THE LEGEND OF LONGWOOD (Netherlands/Ireland/Germany/PG/99mins) Directed by Lisa Mulcahy. Starring Lucy Morton, Lorcan Bonner, Thekla Reuten, Brendan Conroy, Miriam Margoyles, Lorcan Cranitch, Stephen Cromwell, Aaron Kinsella, Fiona Glascott, Scott Graham, Ben Harte, Art Kearns, Kate Gilmore. THE PLOT: With her dad missing in action for the last four years, 12-year-old Mickey Miller (Morton) is in no mood up leave sunny New York and head to the wilds of Ireland along with her mum (Reuten) and her little brother, Danny (Kinsella). That new life becomes that little bit more bearable though when Lisa learns of a 300-year-old curse on this tiny town, wherein a mysterious Black Knight appears, out to avenge the death of his children. As Mickey gets deeper and deeper into the myth, she steps on the toes of bride-to-be Caitlin Lemon (Glascott), who is about to marry the lord of the manor (Conroy), now that his eccentric mother (Margoyles) has mysteriously popped her clogs. Can Mickey get to the bottom of the legend before the wicked Caitlin banishes all the legend’s white horses from the estate forever…? THE VERDICT: One of those old-fashioned live-action children’s films that Disney so loved to produce in the 1970s, ‘The Legend Of Longwood’ is both timeless and out-of-time. Shamelessly hokey, there’s also an undeniable charm here, one that would no doubt work wonders on a sweet-natured young girl with a love of horses and a belief in magic. Only trouble is, they’re a rare breed at the cinema these days, and ‘Longwood’ is more likely to find an appreciative audience at home.
For everyone else, this well be all just a little too diddley-aye-meets-Dopey Hollow. RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (USA/12A/106mins) Directed by Breck Eisner. Starring Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood. THE PLOT: 100 years after he killed the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) and was cursed with immortality, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) is the only man who stands between our world and the darkness that witches want to bring down on humanity. With the help of his loyal Dolan (Michael Caine) and a rogue witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie), who is desperate to survive Kaulder must fight to stop the Witch Queen returning, and save the human race from extinction. THE VERDICT: Despite the fact that the synopsis for ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ seems complicated and long, the film is actually rather simple and rather familiar. That said, this doesn’t mean the film isn’t a decent amount of rather silly fun.
Vin Diesel plays the intimidating Kaulder, first as a man with a long beard and a Peaky Blinders style haircut, then as the brooding, bald Diesel we know, only with several more smiles. Rose Leslie has ditched the Yorkshire drawl she sported in ‘Game of Thrones’, and plays a kindly witch with a will to survive. You know the type; plucky and whatnot. Michael Caine turns up as a watered down version of Alfred from ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’, and Elijah Wood plays a subservient Dolan – the 37th one, to be precise – with a dark agenda. All do fine in their roles, but there are few surprises in ‘The Last Witch Hunter’.
Screenwriters Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless may have written the screenplay some time ago – it appeared on the 2010 Blacklist of Most Liked Scripts in Hollywood – but there are definite comparisons to be made here between this and Seventh Son, which was released in Irish cinemas earlier this year. There are some fun moments in the film, but this does not mean that the screenplay feels oddly reminiscent of films we have seen before where odd couples team up to save the world.
As director, Breck Eisner has managed to make a familiar script a lot of loud, dumb fun. There is a lot of charm to The Last Witch Hunter that has a lot to do with the performances, and little to do with the script. The film is well paced and shot – for the most part – and the chemistry between the actors is strong and warm. There are times, however, when the action scenes dissolve into darkness and jumbled CGI.
In all, ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ is a surprising amount of fun, but we have seen films of this ilk before; odd couples coming together to save the world, and the world duly being saved. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
LISTEN TO ME MARLON (UK/15A/10min) Directed by Stevan Riley. THE PLOT: For much of his life, actor Marlon Brando made audio recordings of his thoughts, observations, memories and at times, self hypnosis. Director Stevan Riley has compiled these recordings and made them available to the public for the first time in this new documentary. THE VERDICT: The idea that Marlon Brando was recording the intimate details of his inner life for many years is an odd one; this is a man who was notoriously private and, although his life was marred with tragedy, did his best to stay out of the spotlight as himself. His acting was another story. Director Stevan Riley, with the full cooperation of the Brando estate, has edited what must be hundreds of hours of audio into a 103-minute film that finally allows audiences to hear what was going on in Brando’s mind, 11 years after his death.
‘Listen to Me Marlon’ takes audiences through Brando’s early success as an actor, his feelings about it and his love of the job he found himself doing. Of course, things begin to sour after Brando has bad experiences on several film sets and he discusses this on the tapes, as well as the fact that he has had his head digitised, and this must surely be the swansong for flesh and blood actors. The observations and insights offered in the film are fascinating, as this is a side of Brando that was never allowed to be seen in the spotlight, and one that gives a greater understanding of who that actor was behind closed doors.
Director Riley has compiled the audio recordings with archive footage of Marlon Brando in interviews, newsreel footage and answer phone messages. The screen is rarely blank however, with footage from Brando’s films and interviews blended with what seems to be home movie recordings and shots of homes that Brando lived in. The first half of the film is well paced and engaging, but it is after the one hour mark that it seems Listen to Me Marlon runs out of steam and loses its way slightly.
In all, ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ is a fascinating look at the life of a notoriously private and reclusive actor. Brando’s tapes are frank, touching and often funny, but the film could have done with a tighter edit to keep the pace and momentum going. That said, if you are looking for a reminder of what a remarkable talent Marlon Brando was, and always wondered what he really thought behind closed doors, ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ is a must see. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MAYA THE BEE (Australia | Germany/G/89mins) Directed by Alexs Stadermann. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Noah Taylor, Richard Roxburgh, Jacki Weaver, Miriam Margolyes THE PLOT: From the moment she is born, Maya the baby bee (Coco Jack Gillies) is curious about the world around her, and why things are as they are. When her curiosity gets her into trouble, Maya finds herself banished from her home, and sets out to make some new friends, and learns some lessons along the way. THE VERDICT: Based on a book first published in 1912, written by Waldemar Bonsels, Maya the Bee is a film that is very much aimed at the youngest people in the audience. The cast do well enough with what they are given, and with actors including Kodi Smit-McPhee, Noah Taylor, Richard Roxburgh, Jacki Weaver and Miriam Margolyes, the film has a gravitas hat comes from the voice cast, which is not backed up by the familiar, simple story and the dated animation.
Writer Fin Edquist seems to have based the screenplay for Maya the Bee fairly closely on the original German book, although he has tried to tone down the militaristic overtones. That said, the film suffers from being familiar and overly sweet;in trying to tone down the tones of racism that appear in the book, Edquist has made the film completely not threatening and sweet, but also made the charaters familiar and rather unengaging.
As director, Alexs Stadermann allows the film to bounce along at a fairly even rate, but there is little comedy here, the scenes feel episodic and the message is so heavily hammered home that the film seems to buckle under the weight of its own sweetness. Add to this characters that we have seen before – and a grasshopper who is surely modelled on Jiminy Cricket – there is very little in Maya the Bee for anyone over the age of five. As well as this, the animation is slightly odd – the bees have unnervingly human looking faces – and the entire film is so glossy as not to feel rooted in any reality we have seen on screen before.
In all, ‘Maya the Bee’ is a brightly coloured, non-threatening film for the under-fives, but the adults who have to sit through this bee movie (gettit!?) will have little to engage with in this under animated, colourful but vapid film that collapses under the weight of its own contrived sweetness. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes