Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Quick Critique: A Date for Mad Mary

Delinquent Drogheda lady Mary (Seána Kerslake) returns home after a short stint in prison. She’s just in time to be maid of honour for her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey), who appears to be avoiding her and getting closer to other people. After being informed that she wasn’t given a plus one on the assumption she wouldn’t have one, Mary goes out of her way to find a date, eventually instilling the help of Charlene’s wedding photographer Jess (Tara Lee).

It’s not often a movie surprises you. When I saw the trailer for this film, I figured I had it all chalked up as some maybe slightly edgy but ultimately inoffensive comedy drama with perhaps a showcase to great talent. I went mostly on the advice of people I respected. They were right, my assumptions were wrong. A Date for Mad Mary is one of the richest and most impressively made Irish films that has come out all year.

I kind of want to end the review here, because one of the best things about the film is that is helps to go in blind. It’s great, go see it. Though for those who need context; A Date for Mad Mary captures probably better than a lot of films out there the anxieties and isolation of being stagnated in your young adulthood. ‘Mad’ Mary is haunted by the sins of her past and her inability to take charge in her life. She flies off the handle, is ridiculously detached and disinterested in anything that isn’t drinking, and most importantly cannot tether the strings of her childhood friendship, despite the other half of this equation having clearly moved on.

What makes this work so well is that every dynamic feels so natural. They really do feel like real people. While it could have been easy to paint Charlene as cold and bitchy, there actually is a lot of effort to humanise her. She can be self-obsessed and vain, but she has a lot of love to give her friend despite the wall put up between them. Similarly, Mary’s mother Suzanne (Denise McCormack) is wonderfully characterised, as a woman so caught up in her own drama she cannot see how much her daughter needs support.

This is Mary’s story, and Mary absolutely shines. Seána Kerslake is a true discovery in the role, managing to be reserved and sympathetic, while also rough and outspokenly troublesome. Mary is so layered that you almost forget how damaging and offensive she can be. It’s a great character study of somebody not ready or willing to discover herself, and this arc leads into one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve seen all year. Seriously, the last 10 minutes are so rewarding.

A Date for Mad Mary manages to be funny and touching without every feeling sentimental or false. With a wonderful perspective of young adulthood lead by a stunning central performance, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give this movie a bash. A combination of expert direction and intelligent writing help bring Kerslake and Mary’s madness to life.

Oh, and the soundtrack is great, too.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Quick Critique: Dare to be Wild

Dare to be Wild tells the true story of Mary Reynolds (Emma Greenwalt), an Irish garden designer who competed in the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show, the ‘Olympics of garden design’. When it’s not focusing on her budding (HAH I’M SO FUNNY) romance with Christy Collard (Tom Hughes), an artist-turned-builder whose passions are more focused on planting trees in Ethiopia.

This movie has a bit of an issue when it comes to focus. This is likely the result of basing the story on Mary’s struggles to get to the Chelsea Flower Show, while Christy’s role in this story doesn’t come until much later. Because to this, and the insistence on making this a love story of some kind, once we get to Mary running to Ethiopia, the plot just stops. And I mean for, like, 20 minutes or so? Dead in the running. To develop their love story and rather flimsily try to tie it into the flower show on a thematic standpoint. To that end, we go from the majesty and grandeur of Ethiopia, its beautiful landscapes and spiritual leanings, to whacky hijinks with Prince Charles. This film has some tonal issues is what I’m saying.

The issue here is that it lacks a solid structure (probably similar to this review, when I think about it). On top of the aforementioned jumbling of the romance with the flower show plot, the film has a tendency to jump around the place without really giving the audience a chance to breathe. We have the opening where Mary sees fairies (no, really, and this doesn’t come up again until the tail end), followed by a Devil Wears Prada-style plot where she works with the comically evil celebrity garden designer Charlotte Heavey (Christine Marzano), who steals Mary’s designs. Then, after she’s fired, we get into the mishaps of Mary entering the garden show, then she goes to West Cork and stays at the commune Christy is staying at to get them to help her. All these parts feel so rushed and underdeveloped, by the time the movie stops in Ethiopia, the pacing feels really jarring and doesn’t exactly pick up steam again until much later.

Directing and writing credits go to first timer Vivienne De Courcy. While she certainly takes advantage of the various and lush landscapes we come across, the cinematography lacks a certain oomph to make it all come to life (also the opening reminded me of the opening to Father Ted, though I dare not call that a bad thing). It’s absolutely an earnest production, but the lacklustre and often dull writing rarely make this anything more than a Richard Curtis feel good wannabe.

Dare to be Wild is certainly inoffensive, and outside of noted parts goes along in a pretty even pace. If you’re looking for something fluffy and twee you certainly cannot go wrong in this biopic of Mary Reynold’s impressive achievements. However, it lacks the structural integrity and tonal consistency to be anything really worth hunting down and seeing. It’s poor design prevents anything significant from blooming.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quick Critique: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who lives in a mountain cave with his ill mother (Charlize Theron). He routinely goes down to a local village to create stories by magically controlling origami figures using his shamisen. He must always returning home before dark, as him and his mother are in hiding from his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his evil aunts (Rooney Mara). However, Kubo accidentally breaks this curfew, informing his aunts of his location. After barely escaping them, he journeys with a monkey totem that was magically brought to life and a man cursed to be a beetle (Matthew McConaughey) in order to find mystical items that will help defeat his aunts and grandfather.

Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest outing from Laika, the stop-motion animation studio known for films like Coraline, Paranoman and The Boxtrolls. With the quality of their work being of usual high regard, and with this boasting the largest stop-motion puppet ever created, I had a lot of high hopes for this movie. And it absolutely obliterated them. This is, without question, one of the strongest films that has come out this year.

To start off, the animation is absolutely incredible. Every texture feels real, every movement has a sense of weight and authenticity to its stride. There is a crazy amount of detail put into every frame that watching this just once doesn’t do it any favours. You will be absolutely absorbed into its magic on the big screen. The set pieces of the giant skeleton and the finale are so impressive in scale and technique that they take you back to the days of Ray Harryhausen; this could be as revered for its technique as his work is.

The story is fantastic as well. While probably not the hardest to follow, and a lot of its twists are easy to guess, it has a much more important thematic resonance that makes me okay with this. It’s a story about stories and how they connect us, even beyond death. While it can be rather no holds barred and goes to some pretty dark places, it has such an important message to children that it really doesn’t bother me. I can see people getting a bit turned off to the ending, but it’s execution is so poignant and it takes a direction I did not expect, so it really does earn a bit of cheese.

Honestly, words cannot do justice to Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s funny, poignant, weird, sobering, clever. It has a wonderful fusion of Eastern culture while telling its own story, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli but having an energy and tone completely its own. I loved the characters, the story, the setting, the mythology-I just love everything in this film! It’s arguably Laika’s best work, which is a tall order, and I urge you to go watch it and check it out for yourself. It’s a story well worth telling.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Quick Critique: The Young Offenders

Two Cork bais (Chris Walley, Alex Murphy) are fresh off the Junior Cert with a boring summer ahead. Motivated by their lacklustre social situations and underage status protecting them from being completely penalised by the law, the ‘brains’ of the operation Jock comes up with a get rich quick scheme. Stealing two bicycles, he talks his accomplice and best friend Conor to ride down to West Cork and steal 7 million euros worth of cocaine (inspired by one of Ireland’s biggest drug seizures of 440 mills worth of coke in 2007). Impeding their operations is Conor’s sardonic and mean-spirited mother Mairead (Hilary Rose), a gard obsessed with bike thieves named Healy (Dominic McHale) and a rather unhinged and disabled drug dealer (PJ Gallagher).

What makes The Young Offenders such a charming and hilarious outing is that it fully embraces the spirit of Cork. Unlike other films shot here, it captures the youthful energy, stupidity and sense of adventure that young Cork men can have. Alex Murphy and Chris Walley are great discoveries from the filmmakers, having little experience prior to this and delivering some exceptional performances. These two just embody the Cork lads so well and their chemistry is palpable; their friendship is endearing and their personalities bounce off each other to make everything they say and do memorable.

The director is Peter Foott, probably best known for directing the music video for the Rubberbandits’ ‘Horse Outside’. He truly understands how to mine the comedy out of Irish culture, particularly counties’ traits and mannerisms, but what’s most impressive is his sense of timing. Very rarely does a joke fall flat, and that has to do with precise delivery and some great editing. While the direction isn’t always on point (the lighting is a bit too bright throughout and moments that aren’t comedic seldom work due to tonal inconsistency), it’s an admirable first time effort for a director who has a lot to offer the Irish film scene.

While the two boys carry the movie, the rest of the cast are completely solid. Irish mainstays Pascal Scott and PJ Gallagher give typically great performances, managing to be intimidating as well as funny. A highlight is Hilary Rose, managing to play a beleaguered and frustrated young mother while still being very likable.  While Dominic McHale is great, sadly his character is a little underwritten to standout like he needs to. Props for the casting agents for managing to find such great extras too, none of them miss a beat.

Honestly, outside of some tonal issues and plot conveniences (also the score is a tad underwhelming, though great choices of songs), The Young Offenders is a really damn solid comedy. The performances and brisk pacing are complimented with some hilarious set pieces and really big laughs. The humour runs the gamut from intentionally stupid gags to area specific references, and it’s one to check out for a really fun time at the cinema. It’s pure Cork.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Quick Critique: Almost Holy

Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, also known as ‘Pastor Crocodile’, is a notable figure in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, he has been housing drug-addicted children in a makeshift rehabilitation centre, later transformed into Pilgrim Republic. Alongside housing and even adopting these children, he fights against the various abused and underprivileged people in Mariupol and leads a massive anti-drug campaign ‘I am Sick’, targeting the sale and distribution of over-the-counter medication to drug addicts. This documentary follows his life and focuses on his struggles as Ukraine attempts to join the European Union while Vladimir Putin and Russia loom over.

Almost Holy opens with some of the most visceral and uncomfortable imagery I have seen in quite some time. It does not pull punches with images of battered women, strung up children and the marks of their effects. While the movie is not excessively forward after this point, it does put the watcher in the mindset of the serious and heartbreaking conditions that Pastor Crocodile has to go through every day. It’s a great introduction into a pretty probing and fascinating film.

Pastor Crocodile (so named after a character in the Russian animated movie Cheburaska) is just a really interesting person. While his hardline and radical approaches to these issues may irk some people (he basically kidnaps these kids in order to sober them up), he’s a very moral man trying to work in a system that has failed its most vulnerable people. Stuff like the subplot involving a deaf woman who was abused by her housemate and a scene where a boy strung out is intercut with a more coherent interview with him will make your blood boil. So, while the movie doesn’t exactly paint the good pastor as a saint, he’s certainly an amazing and fascinating man trying desperately to do the right thing in a wrong world.

The technicals are very on point, as well. Mariupol and Ukraine are shot in a very murky yet sombrely beautiful light. I love how the scene at the ocean was lit-it feels a bit warmer and it’s a nice break for the Pastor and the audience.  The score is also great; very dark and moody but has a very distinctive feel to it. It really adds a lot of character to the proceedings.

This is absolutely a must-see documentary for those concerned with the abuses in the world and those who try to fight them. It’s politics are excellently weaved into the narrative without taking over the story-despite this being the director’s second documentary, he really understands who to bring the cinematic out of the format. 

While it’s dark and a difficult watch at times, it’s helped with a sense of optimism and a ceaseless commitment to fight these horrific conditions. All in all, it’s a character study of a decent, charismatic and endearing figure, who will enthrall you speaking powerfully about injustice to a group of nuns, or enjoying a coffee and hotdog at a petrol station.