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Director: Ron Howard Starring: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Frieda Pinto Running Time: 115 minutes


Sometimes ignorance is bliss. No matter how honestly one might believe that the Oscars are not the be-all-and-end-all of filmmaking, the ceremony remains impossible to avoid in the world of film. It can be a black hole that sucks in all quality discussion of the subject. Once familiar with the term ‘Oscar bait’, the industry within an industry that farms out forgettable, pandering, dull dramas purely to snag award nominations, it’s a bell that cannot be un-rung. A third, more cynical eye opens. It becomes just a little harder to judge certain films on their own merits, to become immersed in the nuances of an actor’s performance and not the narrative over their worthiness or whether they are ‘due’ their big win. Increasingly, every year the Oscar season also quickly picks out an ‘enemy’ among the frontrunners, from La La Land to Jokerthe discussion around the films, quality or otherwise, becomes slightly weighted; talk about whether the films would be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ winners taking on an ethical meaning as much as a qualitative one. The whole discourse can become it’s own self-perpetuating headache.

It’s actually a comfort then, when the Oscar Bait isn’t just middle-of-the-road but rather veers wildly off the road and into a lake where it sinks to the bottom with the rest of the miserable shite. As is the case with Hillbilly Elegy.

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In this week’s Review Round-Up, we look at another pair of excellent films that flew under the radar at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Catch them now on VOD and enjoy the cinema experience from your own living room! Throughout the month of November, keep an eye on FilminDublin.ie for even more recommendations on the best 2020 films so far.

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With new releases thin on the ground once again, during November Film In Dublin are revisiting some notable releases during 2020 that we haven’t yet had the chance to review. In this Review Round-Up, we’re looking at a pair of films available now on Netflix that are essential viewing. Expect more recommendations in the next few weeks of films from this year that are worth accelerating up to the top of your catch-up list.

 

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Director: Remi Weekes Starring: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith Running Time: 93 minutes


A war-torn nation. A fleeing family. A crammed boat. A daughter in the water.

Harrowing images flash across the screen as His House begins, traumas that haunt the subjects of English director Remi Weekes’ debut feature well before any ghosts get involved. Bol Majur (Gangs of London‘s Sope Dirisu) is racked by nightmares, as he and his wife Rial (Wunmi Mosaku of Lovecraft County) await asylum in a centre in England, having fled from South Sudan. The daughter of their flashbacks, Nyagak, is no longer with them. Newly distributed by Netflix, His House deals with deeply-rooted fears, the traditional ghost story used to frame a migrant experience, of what it  might cost to wrench yourself free of your home, and of the things carried over even as you try to start anew.

 

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Director: Ben Wheatley Starring: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristen Scott-Thomas Running Time: 121 minutes


 

Did Netflix, one wonders, agree to distribute a fresh adaptation of Rebecca out of a higher-up’s affection for the source material, or a canny belief that it would make fertile ground to grow acclaim and awards? Or having run the numbers, one might continue to wonder, did they determine that the beautiful faces of stars Lily James and Armie Hammer would be suitably alluring to get subscribers to click on them, and that the title was recognisable enough to squeeze out a week or two in the ‘Trending Now’ tab? The mind tends to do a lot of wandering while trying to take in this latest adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s literary classic, a disappointingly vacant ‘return to Mandalay’ from creative forces that seem to have spent little time in the grounds of this story on their first go around. The result feels like a perfume advert that overstays its welcome to the tune of two hours; stale and lingering.
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Director: Robert Zemeckis Starring: Octavia Spencer, Jahzir Bruno, Chris Rock, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci Running Time: 106 mins

When I first saw the trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ new adaptation of The Witches, I couldn’t contain my excitement and immediately sent it round to friends and family. This got reactions varying from lukewarm to stone faced because my loved ones all felt that no one could beat Anjelica Huston’s turn as the Grand High Witch from Nicolas Roeg’s version of The Witches released in 1990. I hadn’t seen that version and so I approached Zemeckis’ film unspoilt by the comparison. Unfortunately, I still didn’t love it!

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Director: Hong Khaou Starring: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, David Tran, Molly Harris Running Time: 85 minutes


When it comes to culture, identity and family, it’s a given that feelings are going to be complex, even contradictory. Add guilt and grief to the mix and you can get a potent stew of melancholia brewing – a recipe that director Hong Khaou knows very well, and well enough to show that there can be hopeful, joyful moments amongs the stinging pains and numb dejection.

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One of the best things about the raging success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is the potential knock on effect it might have. People who would never ordinarily pay their money to see a subtitled film were doing so, as the critical acclaim drove Parasite into mainstream chain cinemas. This was significant, as such pictures are usually reserved for releases in art house theatres, and although the audiences who usually see them are loyal, they often come in significantly smaller quantities. As an unfortunate but understandable consequence, there can be difficulties associated with getting the right funding to bring international features to Western audiences, on the basis that the people who make the commercial decisions have the “one inch barrier of subtitles” in the back of their minds when sanctioning off projects. Memories of Murder is a reason why the above circumstances are a real shame. While there are always occasions when  directors make their best films early on, Bong Joon Ho’s mystery crime thriller is an example of how many films crawl so others can walk.

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Director: Antonio Campos Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Bill Skarsgård Running Time: 138 minutes


 

Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, director Antonio Campos brings together an impressive ensemble cast to tell a story of intergenerational turmoil and malevolent superstition, set against the beautiful backdrop of Coal Creek, West Virginia.

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Director: McG Starring: Judah Lewis, Emily Alyn Lind, Jenna Ortega Running Time: 101 minutes


Released on Netflix in 2017, The Babysitter was a good example of what the streaming platform hopes for with a large amount of their ‘original’ films; fun, watchable, kind of disposable, and with a simple hook to lure viewers in: a murderous babysitter and a crew of high school clichés going after the kid who idolises her for a satanic ritual. It was a winking bit of playtime with horror tropes that new what it was and didn’t overstay it’s welcome, but what kicked it up a notch from ‘grand’ to ‘oh that was actually pretty good’ was Samara Weaving in the titular role, elevating proceedings through sheer force of charisma as she went on to do in Ready or Not and looks set to do in a fruitful career in Hollywood.

This sequel sees the return of some of the kids from the first film, as young Cole Johnson, now in high school, grapples with the events of the original. He’s a pariah in school and his parents doubt his mental health, nobody believing his side of the story. Weaving, now in high demand, is a shadow that hangs over Killer Queen, and while the film carries the same spirit of its predecessor quite well, it also serves as a strong indicator of the Aussie’s talent: it’s quality compared the first one is more or less proportional to the extent of her absence.

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