Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cork Film Festival 2016

So I went to the Cork Film Festival!

Rather than waste time with the fluff, I have 30 movies I’m reviewing. To make this more interesting, I’m going to rank these from least favourite to favourite. So let’s start off with my least favourite film of the fest:
34. Porto

This was the final onscreen appearance of actor Anton Yelchin, after the actor tragically passed away earlier this year. That’s why Porto ranking right at the bottom is so unfortunate for me, as I wanted to like it more than I did, but I really didn’t. This is no slight on the actors, who do try but there’s nothing really here to work with. Terribly uninteresting romance set apart by some garish and distracting cinematography trying to be ‘cool’ rather than adding anything to the narrative. I’ll likely talk more about this movie in a later piece, but unfortunately this is a dreadful and pointlessly airy “romance” story that manages to feel painfully long at 76 minutes.

33. Fear Itself

A documentary that DARES to make the controversial statement that horror films are…scary. Or something. I don’t know, this movie is terrible and just kind of meanders on with no real point. Also it spoils much, much better movies like M or Brazil, so maybe it’s worth your time watching those films instead of this? I can kind of get what the director was going for, but it really just reminded me that there are a lot better movies I could have been checking out.

32. I am Not a Serial Killer

 Hoo-boy, am I gonna get hate for this one! While there are things that work about this film, like the two lead performances are great, I like that they try to do a serious analysis on sociopathy without going in an obvious direction, and there are some decent effects, everything about the story feels half-written and, like Porto, the kind of grainy, ‘retro’ cinematography just makes the film feel cheap and halfheartedly produced than feeling 80s. it’s a serious slog with painfully stupid character moments, very uninspired camera work and an incredibly stupid and undeserved ending. If you found yourself liking this movie, than more power to ya, but this one left me cold when it should have been more striking than it was.

31. Suntan

I could put up with how mean-spirited and cynical this movie is if it was in any way funny or clever. Honestly, it’s really hard to know what they’re trying to say with any of the characters. They’re just really awful people, especially the repugnant lead, but they try to make his actions sympathetic in a really warped way. And…no? Outside of that, it’s an ugly ass movie, which I thought might be the point if the film wasn’t so relentlessly trying to make its idiotic young characters’ lives look so fucking glam and amazing. Huge misfire of a film, which is a sham as you could do a lot with the premise of a socially awkward and unpopular older man falling in with the ‘cool’ kids who would never give him the time of day in his youth. Alas, this is squandered on a relentlessly unpleasant, unfocused flick.

30. The Miracle of Tekir

What starts off as a really interesting idea (an immaculate conception in modern times, but from a more demure character driven way) is not given the focus or momentum it needs. The lead character is essentially a slate, and while some of the supporting cast are a tad more interesting, they don’t really add much to the proceedings. I really like the cinematography, and some of the stuff with the townspeople’s judgement is actually really well done, but sadly this movie never really succeeds in capturing what it wishes to. Disappointingly banal.

29. Eldorado

Even a documentary with the best of intentions can end up falling flat. Focusing on four immigrants to Luxembourg disillusioned about finding a better life over a couple of years, it very rarely stops to fully humanise this situation or make these people truly relatable. Their struggles certainly are, but there isn’t a lot of time dedicated to them as people. Also it’s pretty annoyingly shot-I really hate the scene in the classroom. Even if it wasn’t staged, it just feels it due to how its framed and edited. Poor direction and a surprising lack of development let this down, despite its filming taking the course of several years. it’s not completely without merit, as it does highlight just how hard it is to be an immigrant in a personable way, but sadly this doc. fails to hit gold.

28. Crash and Burn

Another documentary on an interesting subject-this one the near rise and fall of Irish racecar driver Tommy Byrne-fails to really have a consistent structure to really dive into the legacy of this man. While his story is certainly interesting (I appreciate them not skirting the more destructive elements of his life like others do), the way its presented just really fails to get a grip on the kind of life this man had, even when you’re guided by Byrne himself. what made the documentary on Byrne’s contemporary and professional rival Ayrton Senna work so much better is that you really feel a tapestry of this person’s life, and while this tries to go in a more intimate direction, it doesn’t capture the spirit of this person. Strong story about failure and how you don’t let it ruin you, wish it had been told better.

27. Creepy

This film is pretty much let down in how…easy the villain has it. it’s a pretty strong story, if not a bit hackneyed and full of coincidences, until you find out what’s going on and not a lot of it really makes a lot of sense. Which is a shame, as it’s well directed and pretty decently paced, though the acting from most of the cast leaves a good bit to be desired. It could have been tweaked more to be a bit of a stronger, more coherent film, especially with what they attempt at the end, but as it stands it’s a mystery thriller best left unsolved.

26. The Seasons of Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger

This wasn’t a movie so much as it was a series of four shorts connected through the figure of celebrated English writer and critic John Berger. While these are nice, if not wholly remarkable, snippets of this man’s long and fascinating life, probably its biggest weakness is that it’s not one that the uninitiated of Berger’s life and work can really attach themselves to. I’m sure those who are familiar with him can connect with the film more, but sadly it fails to justify its own existence for those outside of the fans of the man’s work. Still, nice to see Tilda Swinton making food with the guy, very jovial and interesting.

25. Out of Innocence

An independently made film about a rather disturbing case from 1980s Ireland where a woman was accused of murdering a baby due to suffering miscarriage after a corpse was found miles down the coast. They take a rather interesting approach to this story, however, mostly getting the arrest and accusations out of the way as fast as possible to focus on the court case that followed after the family sued the state due to the Gardai’s mishandling of them. The production is pretty stellar (it really feels like the time period), and they really get the absurdity of the court scenes down perfectly, I just felt this could have used a bit stronger direction. Sometimes important moments aren’t made all that clear, and everything just kind of happens all at once due to them seeming to want to get to the stuff that interests them. Still, it’s a decent take on a pretty rough case, with stellar performances from her lead and her mother (Fiona Shaw in her usual high calibre). Worth giving a chance.

24. Women Who Kill

There is a lot I really, really like about this one. All the actors are solid and their characters are likable and well fleshed out. The concept itself is great-having a commitaphobe who also co-hosts a podcast about female serial killers be convinced that her new girlfriend is one. And while the humour isn’t always on fire, it can be really funny when it needs to be, especially as most of the jokes are nearly entirely dialogue based. Women Who Kill is a solid and enjoyable movie, it’s just a shame that the third act gets into weird territories. Without giving too much away, the reveal feels a bit too convenient, and the love interest sadly isn’t given enough room to develop due to her role in the plot. It ends on a really weird and cynical note, feeling really tonally off from the rest of the movie. A solid enough flick that derails near the end, check it out if it sounds interesting to you.

23. Most of the Souls that Live Here

This is one of two films I saw that was made as a reaction to the rise in far right politics in Europe, and I’m gonna be honest, it’s kind of an incomprehensible one. The Buharov Brothers (no relation to one another) have made a name for their weird, dreamlike kind of films. Kind of if David Lynch and Quentin Dupieux had a baby and he was still a tad removed. It would be disingenuous for me to say I knew what the hell was going on, but I kind of like that. I actually would like to revisit this movie to dissect and figure out what is going on. These guys clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, and their imagery and tone are pretty sharp that they just envelope into your brain. While the madness is hard to explain, it’s an interesting journey, and perhaps this film will go up in my estimation once I’m given another chance to dissect it, despite its budget clearly showing.

22. Cardboard Gangsters

This is a serviceable if unremarkable gangster flick. Co-written and starring John Connors, it focuses on four friends who make money doing low level drug deals, until they decide to completely take over their area’s trade. The acting is great, with each of the friends having a distinct and recognisable personality. Props really go to Connors, who manages to have a lot of range despite being in a project similar to his star making series Love/Hate. It does have the unique angle of showcasing the class divide even within the world of the black market, and they do do a few interesting things there. Unfortunately, it mostly just derides into usual gangster tropes that you’ve seen in countless other movies, and you can predict pretty much where it’s going. That and a few structural and budgetary issues make this film worth checking out, but only if you like the actor and/or genre.

21. 2 Nights Till Morning

An intimate look at fears of intimacy. The setting is fantastic-put in that in-between place of travelling between countries where the characters are forced to consider why they are in these positions in the first place. The two leads are great, being both very selfish and yet very relatable in their own way. Outside of some personal preferences and dodgy camera work, the only real issues I had was that the ending isn’t really all that amazing. Not as bad as others, but still it leaves everything on a rather empty note. Still, this is a strong if not amazing film really honing in on two people who wishing to be lost from their lives.

20. Chasing Asylum

A look into Australia’s draconian immigration policies and the refugee camps they set up in detention centres on tiny local islands that can barely handle the population increase. On top of exploring the gross and inhumane way the immigrants live and are treated, the film painstakingly goes through every detail into why this is wrong, as if anticipating the potential arguments that could come up defending them. There is so much covered here that it’s kind of hard not to leave the cinema angry over what you just witnessed. Like the recent Irish documentary Atlantis, it’s not the most visually exciting or rivetingly structured film, but it’s informative and frank, and an important one to watch if you have any interest in the pretty horrible reactions certain countries have to those seeking asylum.

19. Rock Dog

This is…cute! Very fun film. To be honest, I’m surprised it made its way up so high, as there really isn’t anything to it. while the set-up is way overexplained (made even worse that most of the setting and characters introduced in the first act don’t return to the film until the end), and a lot of the weird mythos is barely utilised, it’s a simple and fun story about following your dreams despite your background. None of the characters are annoying or unlikable, Eddie Izzard is fucking hilarious as the fame-obsessed rock star cat, easily the highlight of the movie. The songs are great, even the one created for the movie. Honestly, the most interesting thing about it is its Chinese/American coproduction, but as a film on its own its fine. Bring the kids and enjoy some great soft rock antics.

18. Dancer

This look into the life of Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin was a lot more engaging than I was expecting. While it never goes into the more salacious aspects of his life (more references them), it’s a more intimate and revealing portrait of a man who became famous too quickly and crashed all the same. From his time being the youngest principal dancer at the British Royal Ballet to his incredible music video for Hozier’s ‘Take me to Church’, it’s a straightforward but personal journey into the life of this man. I love how much it focused on his relationship with his family, as well.

17. The Lovers and the Despot

Not gonna lie-this was probably my most anticipated movie of the fest. The story of director Shin Sang-ok and his ex-wife Choi Eun-hee being kidnapped for years by former North Korean dicatator Kim Jong-il to help develop the country’s film industry is one of the most preposterously insane acts, especially as they had to travel the world and pretend to people they were willingly part of this project. to this day, people doubt they were kidnapped. This film did provide a lot of great details and really explored the culture surrounding it through a lot of sources connected to the story, including Eun-hee (Sang-ok had died since), I felt it focused a bit too much on North Korea itself, which is a country that frankly deserves its own miniseries to explore. Still, it gets across the fear and paranoia well, and it’s fascinating to see a tale of love and dread wrapped all in one under a tyrannical despot.

16. The Birth of a Nation

The release more controversial for its star Nate Parker’s past more than the content itself. Parker plays Nat Turner, a 19th century slave and preacher who led a rebellion killing around 50-60 white people, most of them slave owners. As it stands, it’s a pretty decent piece, with a strong turn from Parker himself as the committed and embittered Turner, though probably the weaker part of the movie is that he’s almost given a Messianic glow that’s a bit too much to be taken seriously. Also some of the effects really take you out of the experience. As it stands, however, it’s a powerful tale about marks left in history and how inspiration can come from the most unlikely, and bloody, of places.

15. The Eagle Huntress

Hey, what a fun little doc! The story of a young girl breaking years of tradition by becoming the first female eagle hunter to compete in their local competition is charming as it is empowering. The girl and her father are really likeable, and it’s a wonderful look into a world most of us probably never even heard of. With lush, beautiful cinematography, the film may have some lagging lows, but incredibly soaring highs. Not much to say on this one really-it’s just a sweet, triumphant little film about fighting against prejudices and tradition to make your own path in life. Also, while Daisy Ridley’s narration is kind of unnecessary, her vocals are certainly welcome.

14. A United Kingdom

A powerful biographical film about the price nearly paid for love. The love and later marriage of Botswana prince Sir Sereste Kharma and Ruth Williams caused uproar in his country over him choosing to marry a white woman is very layered, further complicated by the United Kingdom’s involvement in the matter. The power of the film is in its simplicity; it lays out the conflict and just gives the viewers an impossibly romantic story with a lot of political interference. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have amazing chemistry, and they’re such talented actors that they can really hold the movie even in the large chunks when they are apart. It’s competently made and powerful romanticisation of a pretty remarkable true story, even if it has a tendency to make the British government look cartoonishly evil. It’s a well-made tale of love, politics and complicated race relations shot like a classic 1940s romance.

13. Heil

This is an incredibly smart and brazen satire, taking the real life issues of the rise of fascistic sentiments in Germany and framing them like a Carry On movie. This film goes into so many insane directions, and yet manages to commit to it so hard that you completely get on board with how ridiculous they make far-right sympathisers and modern political discourse in general look. Neither ‘side’ is really shown in a favourable light, and the movie just has a ball as South Park as made by Benny Hill. While the memory loss gag can get a bit taxing, and I can imagine people will get frustrated with the fact that it has nothing more profound to say than ‘People who take politics too far look like fucking idiots’, it’s an enjoyably silly film with some great comedic timing and wonderfully hammy acting from the cast. Be you a Nazi or a Leftist, bring your sense of humour and enjoy it.

12. Fragility

An achingly, almost uncomfortably real look into the pressures and woes of dealing with anxiety. Filmmaker Ahang Bashi takes a look at her own dealings with panic attacks and depression in an extremely brave attempt to actualise the condition for those who fail to understand it. It can be hard to watch, but extremely worthwhile for those who do not have a visualisation of what depression and anxiety can look like, as well as cathartic to see others who go through your struggles. It also manages to incorporate her family into it, and has their own reactions for better or worse. It may be short, but it’s an excellent and courageous display of personal demons, one to check out.

11. The Love Witch

This lavishly loving tribute to 60s B-movies gets a modern look while retaining its kitschy charm and style. Unlike I am Not a Serial Killer, this movie uses its ‘old school’ style of filming and Technicolor-esque palette to evoke the feel of the movies its throwing back to, and the acting is expressive enough to capture the feel of the time period, but not exaggerated enough to not be taken seriously. On top of that, it’s just a fun story, with really interesting characters taken in appropriately insane routes. There is a subtle feminist undercurrent that, outside of one scene, never really takes over the movie but is well appreciated. It’s a fun, intelligently made throwback film with a lot to say about 50 years ago as it does about today.

10. 24 Weeks

This is a solid film completely and utterly elevated by its final 20 minutes. While the situation is well handled in a fair, respectful and balanced way, there are some moments that come off as a bit trite and clichéd. Having said that, it’s well shot and engaging, you really get a look into the lead’s world view and reaction to the situation. It’s extremely well acted, and the characters feel real and they go through their motions in extremely realistic ways. But holy shit-the final act is one of the most heartbreaking, soul crushing things I have ever seen in cinema. Blunt and uncompromising, and yet they manage to keep their sense of objectivity. This is an excellent movie in the conversation of abortion, and one that I highly recommend watching simply to keep portrayals like this around. It’s hard not to get invested in the issues brought up.

9. The Apology

This is my favourite documentary of the fest. This is a look into the lives and culture of ‘comfort women’; girls who were taken from various countries by the Japanese army to be forced into the sex trade for the exploitation of soldiers. It focuses primarily on three women, one from a different area (China, South Korea and the Philippines), with the main focus on those demanding an apology by the Japanese government for what they did, and the worries this will never happen due to the ages of the women affected. There’s a great mixture of different Asian cultures here, and each focuses on a different aspect of what these women do to cope. There’s even a community of survivors. It’s a wonderful examination of the human spirit after being subjected to a horrible crime and the work people do to get said crimes recognised. Beautifully told and excellently shot, I cannot recommend this enough.

8. Blazing Saddles

They say you couldn’t make a Mel Brooks movie nowadays, but without the man himself, why would you want to? One of the kings of parody had one of his best recognised movies screened due to the recent passing of Gene Wilder. A note perfect lampooning of Westerns and racial bigotry, it’s as relevant and hilarious today as it was back when it was released 40 years ago. Cleavon Little is such a great comedic presence who bounces off of Gene Wilder beautifully, though he also can hold the screen by himself. There’s not much else you can really say about it that hasn’t been said already-it’s hilarious, biting, and a must-see for all fans of comedy. Just be happy if you’ve ever worked for Mel Brooks.

7. Slash

It feels almost wrong to rank some doofy teen dramedy over a classic like Blazing Saddles, but I just can’t help it-this movie feels charming and raw. Not only is the screenplay popping with amazingly quotable lines, but it actually takes its subject matter seriously while always leaving it open for mockery. It feels loving, getting certain nuances of the world of fanfic while also making it accessible to those completely in the dark. On top of that, it’s just a really honest story about growing up. The two leads are amazingly well realised, both feeling like their own people and so recognisably teenagers, particularly outsiders. The way they examine their sexuality is great too, it’s how a lot of teenagers frankly think about their preferences. This film is witty, fun and has a lot of harsh truisms it explores pretty bravely too, not always going for the happiest method. A movie about creating your own stories out of stuff you love turned out to be one of the realest films I’ve seen all year.

6. Carrie

So this was a treat for me, I got to see Carrie for the first time on the big screen. And it’s rightfully seen as a classic. A devastating and creepy look into teen angst and the consequences of repression, everything about this film just works. It’s perfectly paced and the acting is great, but what really sells it is the tone. It’s relentless in putting the lead through the ringer, with her social ostracisation and terrible mother, that when she catches a break finally there’s a relief. Only to have that scattered when we know what’s about to happen. The scene at the prom is beautifully framed, and absolutely horrifying to boot. While everything about the film just works like gangbusters, it’s the final scene that cements this as a classic. Credit too goes to how amazing Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are-these two just iconify their roles. If you haven’t seen it already, you don’t need my recommendation, check it out!

5. Suite Armoricaine

Again, it feels weird putting some taut French melodrama over a DePalma classic, but goddamn if everything in this movie isn’t just perfect. I even like the length and how the story is structured, which are usually things I hate about films! Pascale Breton’s latest film explores the power of the past on where you are now, no matter how much you believe you’ve moved beyond it. Focused on two characters of different age brackets, it is a beautifully shot meandering gaze into the secrets of the night in a town that was thought forgotten by our protagonists, it’s beautiful symmetry with the art history and intense focus on the more minute aspects makes this a wonderfully engaging but also thought provoking meditation on what we have to leave behind in life. Powerfully realised and an absolutely brilliant use of personal reflection by the director.

4. Chi-Raq

 Spike Lee made something of an urban treat, a movie that’s quite a magnificent feat. Capturing his urban sensibilities with Classical scale, he gives us a modern retelling of an Ancient Greek tale. Full of actors he worked with and ones you know, he makes them rhyme then doesn’t, but always makes it flow! Combing Black Lives Matter issues with modern urban crime, we get to the thematic point not wasting any time. Don’t mistake this director from being socially idle, he hits you hard with what he wishes to say, just look at the title! This beautiful combination of words and prose and song just cannot be ignored, his choreography and timing will always stop you being bored. Teyonah Parris and Nick Cannon gave powerful performances, this joint is engaging and funny, it’s not just about its stances! It’s a beautiful movie about race and sexual liberation through sex being withhold, please go see this movie, I hope I have you sold.

3. Dark Night

This was an absolute surprise, framed around the Batman shootings of 2012 but making it a mood piece set before a mass killing. The way they create so much tension while also fleshing out its characters is commendable, using very sparse dialogue and preferring to let their actions speak for them. Most of the atmosphere is created by some amazing sound design, making every crack and flick sound unnerving. The loose documentary-esque style allows for some decent cinematography despite its drab location, and the subtle way it incorporates gun culture and news reports of shooting manages to make its points without shoving it in your face. This is a beautiful display of minimalist cinema, it’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something different, be sure to check this out.

2. The Handmaiden

So what happens when you get the director of Old Boy, take a Victorian tale and set it in South Korea, about a relationship between two women that was initially set up as an investment scheme for someone to marry into a rich family? You get one of the best romantic dramas and thriller of the year. Park Chan-wook manages to be ridiculously shocking by very little, more suggestion than display, going against what he’s best known for but still showing what a master at shocking and thrilling you he truly is. The two leads are both fascinating and likable despite the awful things they tend to do, and the story takes so many twist and turns you’re legitimately wondering what will happen next. Fun, disturbing, romantic, clever, and ridiculously watchable, it’s a soaring two and a half hours of excellent cinema from a director more than proven to get a rise outta ya.

1. Sunset Boulevard

Was it almost inevitable that this would be my favourite movie, being considered one of the best films ever made? An iconic take on the horrors of Hollywood and how quickly it can exploit and/or abandon you? With a double act of two of what are considered the greatest characters ever put to screen? Starring an actual silent movie star past her prime to add further salt to the wound of the theme? As well as being framed as a gritty noir thriller? Probably, but that doesn’t stop this from being amazing. A beautifully told film that manages to give away the ending and still be surprising, shocking, absorbing and emotional. It’s got excellent direction, every scene moving into one another like a dream. William Holden is great as the slick-but-noble Joe Gillis, but it’s Gloria Swanson that steals the show as Norma Desmond, one of the most tragic characters ever put to screen. Skewering Hollywood like a surgical knife and being endlessly watchable in the same token, this is one of those classics that has to been to really believe just how great it really is. A wonderful treat to see on the big screen in all its noir glory.

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