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Director: Tomas Alfredson Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Val Kilmer Running time: 119 mins


Nordic noir is something that Hollywood has been trying to crack for many years. Although movies, novels and TV shows on this side of the pond have slashed their way to nordic noir notoriety, Hollywood’s attempts to produce this type of dark, urban-based crime fiction hasn’t produced many results.

Expectations were high, however, when news broke of The Snowman; a Jo Nesbø novel adaptation directed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy director Tomas Alfredson, starring Michael Fassbender and produced by none other than Martin Scorsese. On paper The Snowman should be a masterpiece. In reality, it couldn’t be further from one.

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Director: Kathryn Bigelow Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Jack Reynor Running Time: 143 minutes


Though the clothes and the music and the specific events make Detroit‘s setting of 1967 clear, it’s shot in a haphazard, shaky manner that suggests that this could be happening right now. The point is pretty clear of course, as the events recreated here, racial inequality, police brutality, an unjust legal system, are still happening right now. Bigelow’s film could just as easily be called Ferguson and while that does make its messages abundantly clear and easy to agree with, it may also be the biggest drawback. Here Bigelow and screenwriting collaborator Mark Boal roll up their sleeves and deliver their cinematic treatise on racism in the United States. There’s anger here to be sure, but it’s an scattergun anger, displeasure at a distance and what that results in is a film that’s unrelenting but unfocused. Are these Bigelow and Boal’s sleeves to roll up?

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Director: David Lowry Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara Runtime: 87 minutes


A Ghost Story plunges the depths of themes that most filmmakers have devoted their careers to exploring. The ambition and quiet confidence with which it delves into issues such as life, death, memory and time is, quite simply, something to be marvelled at and revered. While it may challenge some movie-goers, director David Lowry (Ain’t Them Bodies SaintsPete’s Dragon) has created a film that rewards those who are willing to listen and understand what it endeavours to explore: the enduring and resolute spirit of love in the face of significant loss. Make no mistake, A Ghost Story is 2017’s greatest film. Read more…

Director: Sofia Coppola Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning Running Time: 94 minutes


 

The films of Sofia Coppola have always been drawn to the loneliness of the privileged, the longings and feelings of isolation of people who on the face of it, should have it all. In adapting The Beguiled, Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel previously put on screen from the decidedly more male perspectives of Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood in 1971, Coppola pushes her usual focus even further. The privileged here are the Southern belles of a Virginia girls school during the American Civil War, their isolation a gated-off manor, longing for the fathers and husbands and men-folk off fighting the losing side in a moral divide, even their hardships are a result of the school’s slaves not being around anymore. It may seem like too much Coppola at first glance, but in this repressed white erotica of furtive glances and fancy dresses, she uses restraint to great effect, resulting in a lean, sharp film, taking her usual privileged perspective and flipping it to comment on another.

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Director: William Oldroyd Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank, Paul Hilton Running Time: 89 minutes


It can tend to get a bit grim in the English countryside. The foggy fields suggest a certain emptiness, a setting where taciturn people keep secrets from each other until either their passions suddenly ignite or they Eleanor Rigby themselves to quiet, dignified, sad demises. Take the similarly cheer-resistant world of Russian literature and place it in that setting and you’re unlikely to end up with the feel good hit of the summer. But as evidenced by Alice Birch and William Oldroyd’s adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District, what you do end up with is a captivatingly twisted take on English costume drama that you can’t take your eyes away from.

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Director: Alan Gilsenan Starring: Catherine Keener, Hannah Gross Running Time: 90 minutes


Adapting the Canadian Author Carol Shields final novel Unless for the big screen was certainly going to be a challenge. The novel, the last book written by the author before her passing from breast cancer, was a sprawling story with many layers of philosophical meditation. The novel tackles gender inequality and the realistic possibilities for women, the nature of happiness as well as identification of people’s place and purpose in time. Writer/director Alan Gilsenan does a noble job of condensing these themes into a digestible cinematic format and with Catherine Keeners raw, realistic central performance Unless feels like a film with a lot on its mind. The resulting film however is never as nuanced and profound as it thinks it is, keeping the audience at an emotional distance when it should be letting them in.

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Director: Mick Jackson Starring: Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott Running Time: 110 minutes


The atmosphere of Western politics in the last 12 months has quickly turned ‘timely’ into one of the most overused phrases in film criticism, with any film past or present that’s even remotely similar to current events now given the label. However with Denial depicting an Anti-Semite, who literally causes a judge to ask if his twisting of the facts regarding the Holocaust can be called lies if they’re what he genuinely believes, timely is definitely the word, to the point where the unrelenting news cycle rendered it more relevant walking out of the screening than it had been walking into it. Relevant and informative, as a film Denial is as blunt as its subject Deborah E. Lipstadt has been about the obvious incorrectness of Holocaust deniers like David Irving and the motivation behind their lies. Its message is important in the face of ‘alternate facts’, but the film struggles in getting beneath the surface of Lipstadt and Irving’s legal battle.

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Director: Pablo Larraín Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt Running Time: 99 minutes


It would perhaps be a stretch to call Pablo Larraín’s Jackie a surreal film. In terms of narrative structure and subject matter, it still functions as a straight enough biopic about Jackie Kennedy. But we all know what happened to Jackie Kennedy, and what could be more surreal than having your husband, the President of the United States, have his head blown to pieces right next to you? Isn’t reaching for a piece of skull, frantically, nonsensically, the kind of gesture that might fascinate directors like David Lynch or, as is the case, Larraín? Still structurally a biopic, what makes Jackie so interesting is its effectiveness in capturing the surreal, funereal air around the aftermath of a situation that was never supposed to happen. And just as responsible for creating that feeling is Natalie Portman as Jackie, in possibly her best performance as the shellshocked out-of-nowhere widow.

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Director: J.A. Bayona  Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson Running time: 108 minutes

A Monster Calls is part of the growing trend towards children’s films that don’t talk down to children, a lá Inside Out. The animated water colour storytelling sequences are inventive and truly beautiful. 2017 may have just begun, but it looks set to be a great year in film.

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Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Issey Ogata Running Time: 159 minutes


It will be interesting to see the Irish reception to Silence, a film about struggling with the Catholic faith that’s been mulling around in the head of Martin Scorsese for some 25 years. Though it’s oppression of the Church rather than by it that leads to the crisis of belief the Jesuit priests of the film encounter, their struggle will no doubt resonate with many viewers here. And in fairness, be of complete indifference to others. As a quiet and understated story of suffering, it’s a stylistic departure from recent bombastic displays from the veteran director, but hidden in the performances of its leads are similar themes of determined men and their (often self-aggrandising) efforts to succeed that have been consistent throughout his work. Suffering is all over this story, but when suffering is as glorified as is in Catholicism, at what point do the motivations of those who are suffering get called into question?

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