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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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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: 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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Director: Charlie Kaufman Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis Running Time: 134 minutes


 

Charlie Kaufman has never been one to shy away from unconventional projects. While his directorial debut came with Synecdoche New York in 2008, Kaufman made his bones in screenplay, penning Being John Malkovich in 1999, while perhaps being best remembered for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind five years later. Throughout this eclectic filmography has been a strong theme of existential uncertainty and metaphysical pondering. There’s also been a fair share of Kaufman’s work being referential to pop culture, sometimes satirical, sometimes more serious. Among these rather confounding patterns however stands a more clear characterisation of Kaufman. That is, his understanding and appreciation of storytelling stems from his impressive communicative abilities in the written form. To those most familiar with his career, he will likely be seen as someone who is best equipped to deliver if he grounds his film in an expertly crafted script. No doubt, this talent is one that Kaufman appears well versed in. Here however, on the back of films like Synecdoche New York that were famously difficult for audiences to penetrate, his task as a more deeply involved film maker requires a more balanced and nuanced skill-set.

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Directors: Josh & Bennie Safdie Starring: Adam Sandler, Eric Bogosian, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield Running Time: 135 minutes

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With a career littered by the likes of The WaterboyBilly Madison, and Happy Gilmore, it’s fair to say that Adam Sandler isn’t a name that’s been synonymous with the Awards season in film. It’s never been the case that lowbrow slapstick comedies have been the only thing that Sandler could come up with, but such films seem to be his career’s signature. There are parts of this that have always been endearing to me- for example, his loyal tendency to give his close friends consistent work, even through (at times) offensively rubbish pieces like Grown Ups 2. Notwithstanding this likable fidelity, Sandler has far too often had his name attached to horrendous, Golden Raspberry bait, with 2011’s Jack and Jill being a notable lowlight.

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Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Harvey Keitel, Kathrine Narducci Running Time: 210 minutes

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There is a moment, deep in the runtime of The Irishman where Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, a man decades in  service to the mafia, tries to talk Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa out of going past a point of no return, Hoffa invoking the wrath of the mobsters he’s found himself in league with. It’s a key communication, a warning to a close friend to put aside his pride and stubborness in the face of certain death, a plea for cooler hands to prevail in a genre where they never do, as well as an internal clash of Sheeran’s loyalties and his warped sense of duty. The words, to say the least, don’t come easy. Sheeran is unable to conjure more than loaded stock phrases and inneundo, a sad Johnny Tightlips mumbling that “it is what it is”. In the mafia, you never say what it actually is, threats and confessions alike meant always to be dangled just out of reach, and the great Martin Scorsese’s pensive reflection of decades of crime shows how these delusions and denials erode a man from the inside over time. Weaving through the histories of these stubborn criminals, The Irishman lays bare just how hollow their power and legacies ultimately are, gently but firmly.”You don’t know how fast time goes by until you get there,” says Frank and the story of how gets there and what is left of him when he does is one of Scorsese’s finest in years. A slow, sad reflection of the past.

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is wholesome teenage fantasy. It tells the story of Lara Jean (played by Lana Condor), a sweet and shy girl who develops crushes very easily but struggles to actually make connections with boys. This will be a bittersweet memory for many, and a fresh of breath air for current teenagers frustrated watching media feed them ideas of breezy confident teens engaging in casual sex (which is fine and real but not the reality for all). Watching this film is akin to curling up with a hot drink at a sleepover and finding out that you’re not as different as you thought.

The film doesn’t ridicule or sneer at its characters, unfortunately this is a rarity for media aimed at teenage girls! We recognise young girls as a lucrative demographic but boy do we hate em for it. Director Susan Johnson deftly explores LJ’s urge to make a connection and by the end we understand that losing her mother young has given Lara Jean a fear of loss so strong that she can’t let any of her crushes get close. There are visual separations and frames throughout the first half of the film to reflect the distance LJ fiercely maintains, this gradually breaks down and the colour palette moves from gentle pastels to sharp vibrant blues and reds when Lara Jean and Peter (Noah Centineo) finally kiss. It’s a well-constructed film which accounts for its mass popularity.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a great example of American-Vietnamese representation. Because Lara Jean and her sisters just exist as American-Vietnamese people, it’s there but it’s not signposted constantly because it’s just part of who they are, an aspect of their experience – which is how whiteness and white characters relationship with race is always portrayed.

 

Director: Bong Joon-ho Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhall, Steven Yeun Running Time: 120 minutes


As the medium of film is explored further and further, filmmakers are discovering new and innovative ways to tell the stories that they want to tell. As a result, larger and more complex themes can be explored in 90-120 minute segments at a level that was never thought possible. Over the past few years, science fiction and animation have been able to tell us more about our humanity and morality than most other genres: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Pixar’s Up explored what it meant to be lonely, Wall-E offered a glimpse into the trajectory and repercussions of modern western lifestyles, District 9 explored social stratification under the facade of an action movie, and 2001: A Space Odyssey explored mankind itself… period! Taking all of this into account, it shouldn’t really surprise you to know that Bong Joon-Ho’s (The Host, Snowpiercer) newest movie Okja revolves around a giant, mutant, grey pig, yet tackles such themes as consumerism, capitalism and greed. What will surprise you, however, is just how spectacularly beautiful the movie is.

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