Tag Archives: Ireland

SUMMER CINEMA: JUNE

Because, sometimes you see a flood of movies, both new theatrical and DVD releases as well as classics. Unfortunately, time constraints and life don’t always comply with allowing you to be on time with all of them and you wind up falling behind. Part one of two.

WONDER WOMAN
USA / China / Hong Kong / UK / Italy / Canada / New Zealand
Director: Patty Jenkins
Runtime: 141 minutes
Language: English, German, Dutch

I generally stay away from almost 99% of superhero movies that come out at the rate of one per week. I just don’t feel that I’m the target audience they wish to cater to and for me, unless it’s something directed by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton (who to me, directed two of the most memorable Batman movies) then I’m just not interested in watching hyper-kinetic action from the word go, cartoon villains, two dimensional acting, and the requisite confrontation scenes in large cities that offer only a mock-up of urban destruction, the kind Roland Emmerich would positively fall in love with.

So, with that in mind, it took me close to two weeks and voice of  mouth before I found myself sitting at the back of theater 10 in an AMC allowing me to, naked of bias, experience Wonder Woman. Reader, I was totally taken in by her origin story in an invisible island off the coast of Greece, living in perfect paradise, away from the world of men and its complications. The intro section is one of of the best in the film even when it compresses time and shows Diana growing up before our eyes, unaware of the role she will have to play against the god of war, Ares, who has turned his powers to place the world in complete turmoil. Chance has it where Diana, now grown up, meets a downed pilot who turns out to be Steve Trevor who somehow has penetrated the bubble of invisibility that hides Diana’s island home.

While many of the women, Diana’s mother (Connie Nielsen) included, feel uneasy with a man in the midst, Diana learns through Trevor there’s a war raging outside her kingdom and sensing Ares must be behind it, they both set out to London; he to stop the Germans, she, to find Ares. Does this seem unbelievable? Of course — every story involving superheroes are, but at least this one has some roots in reality with the Germans attempting to use and release lethal gas as a war weapon. Also, Gal Gadot as the titular Wonder Woman is a hell of a performer and will erase most memories anyone has of Lynda Carter. Her Diana is completely ahead of her time, a feminist, and a conscientious warrior focused on the higher good. Chris Pine has the less meatier of the starring roles — all the action goes to Gadot — but his is still, much more solid than the TV version played by Lyle Waggoner, and provides enough comic elements when the story threatens to become too serious for its own good.

To me, the real surprise and sole reason to go see this film is Patty Jenkins, a director I only knew from her 2004 movie Monster, a film that garnered Charlize Theron an Oscar for Best Actress. Monster was essentially a chilling portrait of Aileen Wuornos, and after that, Jenkins did very little. It seems she has had time to prepare for a movie like this that is action-driven and female-centric. She does not disappoint, establishing Diana’s world from the onset, introducing strong women like her aunt and teacher Antiope (Robin Wright), and then fast-forwarding her isolation to catch-up to 1918, and from there moving towards action sequences filled with Gadot’s balletic movements until the emotionally satisfying finale. It is a tour de force part for Jenkins who announces herself as a director to pay attention to.  [A+]

THE WORLD OF KANAKO
Japan
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Runtime: 118 minutes
Language: Japanese

Viewing The World of Kanako is akin to looking into the abyss for a second too long. There is so much carnage, so much nihilism involved and not a branch, nothing to hold on to, that once the film was done there was a sense of something truly ugly hovering, as if somehow, the story I’d seen was penned by a lucid madman who wanted to plaster on paper all the ugliness in society into one vertiginous tale of deceit and murder. Anchored by Koji Yokushio as former detective Akikazu Fujushima, a broken man separated from his wife who finds himself investigating his daughter Kanako’s disappearance. It seems as though she’s been swallowed up by the underbelly of society and, hell-bent to save her, Fujushima dives head first into it, running into all sorts of undesirables. If there is a sense that Kanako may make an appearance in the style of Orson Welles in The Third Man, it’s due to how much of an impression she’s left on people. It is as though she herself was a ghost living in the narrative of the movie, invisible but omniscient, and instead of bringing a sense of solace that her eventual discovery may allay the anguish of her absence, it does the contrary.

What denies Kanako the points it would need to become great in the eyes of movie lovers is that it’s frankly, so frenetic, so ferocious in its editing — a scene not lasting more than a second, placed against others that fly by so quickly it’s not far-fetched to say one could get a headache — that the notion of suspense is gone and all that remains is shock and buckets of gore. On top of this, the women in the film — and there are several — are never seen as sympathetic. Ranging from simply alienating to downright monstrous, Kanako is a film that serves as a cry of misogyny that only stops once the film itself is over. [Although, to be honest, I may be over-analyzing; extreme cinema doesn’t abide by the rules of having nice characters. On the contrary, the more transgressive the better to express how black the human heart can be, and how far its tentacles can go. This is one ugly, ugly film that mysteriously manages to come off as strangely compelling.  [B]

A DOG’S PURPOSE
USA
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: English

When did Lasse Hallstrom lose his shit? Can someone please inform me? While I recall that Hallstrom rose from being a fluke Oscar winner for My Life as a Dog to direct Oscar winning performances in thoughtful movies starting with Once Around and ending in the Oscar-pleaser Chocolat, I also recall that somewhere in the mid-aughties he began directing films that either went nowhere (An Unflinished Life, anyone?) or became parodies of feel-good romance and general goodness. Perhaps it’s me, but it seems like by the time he came up with Hachi, he’d somehow just checked out and chosen to go to the path of making a quick return on a movie that was based on a real dog who waited for his owner, even when the owner himself was dead. Hallmark had suddenly hijacked the building.

But the whole descent into sap didn’t end there: earlier this year we had a movie pounce upon us with paws made of concentrated sugar, licking us with a tongue made of syrup and eyes made to stare lovingly at us while we wondered first what had just happened, but taken in by the charm, decided to stop thinking and just submit/ It was all very Orwellian. A Dog’s Purpose took the sentiment of Hatchi and dialed the lachrymose aspects of its story to eleven and then some. Predictably, Hallstrom’s film was based on a written book — yes, someone came up with the idea to write a story of a dog who has to reincarnate over and over in order to Come Back Home. [And I wonder why I’m still working a nine-to-five in corporate America. . . . ] That the dog, a lovable thing voiced by Josh Gad, who starts out cute and devolves into plain creepy (you’ll see if you rent it) is bad  enough, but the plot developments are just plain implausible to a degree that I can’t. If Lasse Hallstrom wanted to do yer another film about a dog he could have remade the Hungarian film White God and eliminated some of the incursions into animal abuse, steroids, and violence and still come out a winner. As it stands, A Dog’s Purpose is a parody of shameless emotional manipulation that wants you to believe it’s got some cosmic understanding when in fact, all it understands, is dollar signs. [C-]

THE JOURNEY
Ireland
Director: Nick Hamm
Runtime: 94 minutes
Language: English

For all its good intentions, the events depicted in Nick Hamm’s The Journey didn’t exactly happen the way they are shown. While the two leaders of opposing forces — Martin McGuiness, allegedly the former leader of the extremist IRAs who now heads Sinn Fein, and Reverend Ian Paisley, an ultra-conservative anti-Catholic minister who heads the Unionists — did meet in 2006 to put an end to the Troubles, a conflict that has plagued Ireland for over hundreds of years, Hamm’s reimagining of it sounds and looks a bit contrived but winds up working. When both men find themselves sitting side by side in a limo driven by a covert MI6 operative (played by Freddie Highmore, who brings a little more than just a thankless, passive presence to his role as a driver), the feelings of tension could cut the air like a knife. However, a conversation and a truce must be reached, and it’s the driver’s job to ensure that this event transpires between the two political enemies.

The greatest asset that Hamm’s picture has going for itself is the dialog. For a movie to have lines such as “You can almost taste the hatred” delivered almost in a scenario of “same-shit-different-day” is an early sharply drawn observation of how violence had become so entrenched in Ireland as to have been matter-of-fact. Both McGuiness and Paisley use words like daggers but also with a sense of humor; these are seasoned pros who know, it seems, what buttons to push against the other, and at times (and for those of us who know the results of this meeting), it appears that as much as they might want to believe they are on opposite sides of the fence, the movie portrays them as actually much closer than that, barely divided by a thin wall of pride. If anything, reveals that despite what we may think of how different opposing forces are, once the veil of ego is removed, we can all see the other for whom they are and work together. [I know, it sounds a bit trite, but it’s true.] The presence of Spall and Meaney alone is worth the 90 minutes of your time; plus, you can spot John Hurt in one of his final roles, and Toby Stephens as Tony Blair.  [A]

POP AYE
Thaliand / Singapore
Director: Kirsten Tan
Runtime: 102 minutes
Language: Thai

Kirsten Tan’s debut film, still playing in cinemas at the time of this writing, will be only affected by one thing: its timed release with another film about the relation between a human and an animal, and that film is the more commercial-friendly, sentimental Okja . The difference between the two starts almost at the start: while Okja is a superficial examination on mass consumerism and exploitation of available resources, Pop Aye is a little more complex. An architect past his prime (if I can say that) finds himself questioning his marriage, his life, his eventual replacement by younger, hipper architects. Out of nowhere — and it does seem fantastical — a pet from our architect’s childhood appears. But it’s not just any pet that has made its reappearance. It’s a full-grown elephant.

For reasons unexplained Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroth) has a moment of epiphany and makes it a point to take custody of the elephant. It’s a completely off-the-wall moment, but made to look as if it were the most normal, natural decision, especially when it involves a man going through a mid-life crisis. He takes it home, much to the horror of his wife with whom he’s alienated with (and nothing could spell alienation more than the scene when Thana discovers a dildo in her belongings, brings it out, and places it nonchalantly on a coffee table waiting for her reaction).

When the presence of Pop Aye clearly has an unnerving effect on his house hold, Thana sets out to deliver Pop Aye to an animal sanctuary where it won’t be forced to perform in circuses for the amusement of others. On his way across Thailand he experiences the kindness of strangers (a thing that seems to be requisite of these road movies). Among these strangers are a bum who seems to be at the end of his life, a transgender nightclub singer, and a hooker. Pop Aye presents each encounter with a sense of greater connectivity, that even the most loneliest person can find his own place in the world. If anything is absent it’s in the fact that Thana as a character is so alienated to everything that he seems to be on his own island and thus it’s a bit hard to relate to him, and that the elephant in question seems more a background prop than an actual presence — that is, right up until the final sequence, which is rather moving.

Pop Aye had its premiere at the Film Forum on June 28 and is still currently playing around the country. Look for it soon on DVD.  [B]

VIVA

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

It may have a Welsh director and Irish budget, but Viva, Paul Breathnach’s movie and Ireland’s submission to the 2015 Best Foreign Language Picture (where it made the December shortlist) is all Cuba. Set in Havana, Viva will transport you, the viewer, to a place that looks and feels as though time stopped when Castro came to power. Havana is alive, crumbling, derelict, but with dripping with an exotic beauty all its own. It’s also where Jesus, the young protagonist, struggles to make a living both as a hairdresser to older ladies who can never pay him full price for his services and as a wig-assistant to Mama, the older drag queen who is the main attraction of a gay club.

When Viva kicks off (and it does so rather quick), Mama learns that one of her performers has run off with all her wigs and is in need of a last-minute replacement for a double act. Enter Jesus who can barely perform and looks unconvincingly female in make-up, wig, and a dress, who chooses the name Viva after a fashion magazine seemingly  modeled after Vogue. The other performers don’t offer much help and it seems as though this will be a retread of a young man trying to prove himself to other more seasoned drag queens (and having to confront a more bitter performer, or the Queen Bee herself once his reputation and marquee value rises. Viva offers a left turn right after Viva’s debut as a “new discovery”, and does so in the most clever of ways. An older man is seen sitting at the bar admiring the drag queens. Because it’s Viva’s turn to go out on stage Mama and the others advise her to be friendly with the customers, to get up close and personal to insure tips (and her own place onstage). Viva agrees, and when she gets up close to the older man at the bar he gets violent, punches Viva in the face, and has to be thrown out.

You see, Viva just met her own father.

Angel is a man who’s been in jail since Jesus was a baby. Jesus always wanted to meet him, just not in this way. Once he returns home Angel is belligerent, aggressive, even confrontational. A thorny relationship starts and stops several times before it finally seems to take a groove of its own. The catch is, Angel doesn’t want Jesus to be performing at a gay club.  He’s okay with Jesus being gay; he just wants him to be masculine. Jesus, wanting to have a relationship with Angel, rejects Mama’s offer to come back to the club and decides to wing it out. Perhaps he will eventually leave, and let Jesus continue with his life.

But Breathnach has several more tricks up his sleeve, and here is where Viva really opens up to the audience. A couple of subplots involving Jesus’ frenemy Cecilia seem tacked on at first but are crucial to the development of the plot: her sexual dalliance with a would-be macho boxer Javier lead Jesus to audition successfully, but once he demands she not use his place as a launchpad for sex she is the one who informs Angel of where he could find Jesus. Jesus himself, stripped of his drag persona, sees himself having to go to extremes to make money since Angel himself can’t find a job and is wallowing in self pity because of a failed life. It’s here where you really feel the sheer isolation Jesus feels, cornered and unable to find any work, and you long for him speak up for himself and take the stage once again.

Viva shines not just in the powerhouse performances of Hector Medina, Jorge Perrugoria, and Luis Alberto Garcia as Jesus, Angel, and Mama, respectively, but also in the emotional impact of the songs themselves, which become the driving focus of Viva’s message. The finale is overwhelming, shattering, and a total triumph of storytelling where everything comes together into one transcendental climax. Finding one’s place in the world and self-acceptance through the medium of art never looked and sounded more raw and compelling. Viva is a watershed LGBT movie that has to be experienced. It can all be summarized in a quote Mama makes late in the movie: “Why is everyone on this island addicted to this goddamn drama?” She should know. To experience drama is to live, and like all drag performers, they channel all the pain and anguish of life itself onto the audience for a couple of dollar bills.

DARK HORSE

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

Living in a city like New York can turn movie-going into a nail-biting challenge, With over 10 arthouse theaters catering to indies of all shapes and sizes and there being at times as much as 15 new entries in a single weekend it’s truly a  miracle that one can get to see any of them in time, at least before they hit VOD or DVD status (which on occasion in regards to the latter format can take forever). Today was one of those days where I had a small list of films to see and my plan was to finally catch up with the animated April and the Extraordinary World at the IFC. However, logistics outside of this plan threw me off and in a way, what almost became a personal disaster turned into a much needed cathartic blessing in disguise. I found myself at the Angelika almost in a dream-state and choosing a documentary that had never even entered my plans: ireland’s aptly titled Dark Horse.

When you think of horse racing you think of high-bred animals being groomed by people with money to spend. For ages it’s been like that in the UK. But for Janet Vokes, a Welsh woman living a hardscrabble life working in Asda, a chain market equivalent of our Walmart or Target, the idea of grooming such an animal and training him to run races became not just a dream but a reality, one she somehow managed to convince her husband and friends into crowdfunding in order to foot the cost of purchasing such a mare, and then a stallion, in order to breed her winning horse, one the town named Dream Alliance after much pondering.

Louise Osmond’s sweet as can be documentary charts the life of Dream Alliance from the moment of birth into young adulthood when he begins to win his first races. This of course puts Janet and others into a state of euphoria and they decide to see how far they can go. And mind you — none of these people are actually motivated by the money and the glory: they just want to say that they too had a share of a sport geared only for people of a certain privilege. Dark Horse might suffer from being just a teensy bit predictable — after all, this is the classic story of the Little Engine that Could — and its thick Welsh accent may prompt viewers to switch on subtitles. Other than that, the documentary looks gorgeous in lush, almost hyperreal greens and that perpetual fog hovering over the small town where Janet lives, and compounded by footage of the races Dream Alliances participated in as well as tiny bits of reenactment here and there, this should be a perfect crowd pleaser.

SING STREET

Sing Street. :

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Sing+Street+band+15

The 80s will be forever marked in my psyche as the decade that defined me, my taste in music, art, and what introduced me to the very adult feelings of love, hate, fear, courage, self-assertion, hate, all in incipient form waiting to be germinated. How curious for me to walk into the Angelika last week and see this movie which I knew nothing about and see that its main character, a young Irish boy living in Dublin, formed a rock band to impress a slightly older girl who lives across the street where he goes to school?

It could have almost been my autobiography, in a way. Seeing Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a kid who at the start of the movie we learn was placed in a cheaper — what we could call “public” school in the Caribbean — school where truants and skinheads ran amok and teachers (in this case, Irish Catholic priests) paid homage to bullying the student into submission, I could see myself at about the same age when the story starts, trying to survive in lieu of fitting in. Fitting in is not Conor’s thing: he’s too educated, to different in every step of the way, so by default he’s set to be the fall guy for every bully looking for a quick brawl.

Enter Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a girl who lives across the street from the school and could often be seen standing there in trendy outfits, almost posing if you will. Conor musters up the courage to go talk to her. He’s totally impressed by her and he barely even knows who she is, and as luck and teenage lust would have it he farts a band out of his own ass and tells Raphina he’ll be sending her a demo for his new song. The catch: he neither has a song, much less a band.

SING STREET
SING STREET

While Conor’s parents bicker constantly, his brother witnesses his first clumsy attempts at music and feeds Conor LPs of pop artists of the moment. It’s through here that Conor and a gaggle of classmates and neighbors form a band called Sing St., a band that could have very well existed in the New Romantic / Brit Invasion of the early to mid 80s (the story takes place approximately around 1985-86). They start playing cheap covers, but soon enough a synergy forms between Conor and band leader Eamon (Mark McKenna) and they start jamming on their own, coming up with some pretty sharp tunes that sound of the period. Raphina becomes their go-to model, but she has other ambitions — to get the fuck out of dodge and start anew in London as a model. She also has other problems, one of them, having an off-screen dysfunctional relationship with an older guy.

Despite the predictability of the story, I’m going to recommend it mainly because it’s every kid’s true coming of age via the catharsis of pop music not just of the 80s but of any period and time. Conor, and also his troubled older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, whom I recently saw in Glassland) have a wonderful symbiotic relationship that bolsters each other’s existence. Brendan seems to see in Conor the person he could have been and of course, pushes him to do his best and be authentic. While later events conspire to tear the brotherly fabric apart, this to me is the most solid relationship in the movie, because even when Conor and Raphina somehow become a rather unsteady item, I have serious doubts that it would last past their teen years.

Even so, much of the action is kept on a positive, upbeat note and this keeps Sing St. from becoming cloying and unbearably sad. It is a treasure trove of 80s pop tunes and the homages are all over the place, from Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet to The Cure, The Jam, Depeche Mode, but ultimately the film belongs to the kids who create and perform some remarkable tunes. It’s not exactly perfection, but I will say, I cheered when the credits rolled and even felt a dab of emotion when I saw how far these characters had come in such a compressed period of time. For the nostalgics, for anyone who lived and loved the 80s, this is the right picture to watch and play on repeat like a long MTV video.