Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grown-Ups Premiere!!

No, this is not a review...I was,unfortunately, on the outside looking in for this one. Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James were in Dublin tonight for the premiere of their new film Grown-Ups. Among the throngs of fans, Jedward-spotters and rude Spanish students with pointy elbows was me with my camera and my beautiful special edition Punch Drunk Love DVD. I know this is a one-way ticket to film critic oblivion but I don't care, I'll admit it loud and clear I love Adam Sandler. He's been my favourite since I first fell in love with him in The Wedding Singer. And no amount of really, really dreadful films can ever change that!

I was uber-excited when I heard he'd be in town and even though I know someday I'll be in a position to interview him for this very blog, I grabbed my Punch Drunk Love DVD and queued and squished and pushed and pulled for a couple of hours and it was totally worth it!!

David Spade arrived first, followed shortly by Chris Rock who seemed unusually subdued. Perhaps his great new documentary Good Hair isn't getting the audience it deserves. Crowds went insane for Kevin James who inconceivably got perhaps more red carpet love than Sandler himself. Do that many people love King of Queens. Hmm...apparently so!

Adam Sandler arrived dressed in what was nothing short of an Adam Sandler costume, backwards cap, scruffy jeans, t-shirt and plaid shirt. He worked the crowd for about 20 minutes before being ushered to the stage to receive his personalised Dublin GAA jersey from 98FM. The boys quickly posed all together then went inside to watch the movie (or hang out till the crowd leave then scarper off to the pub).

Fun was had by all, but especially me because I have such love for Sandler it's ridiculous!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Toy Story 3

Written by: Michael Arndt

Directed by: Lee Unkrich

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty

Rating: 10/10

There’s something about the Toy Story franchise that is universally emotive. Presumably that “something” is the fact that everyone had toys as a child. Toys taught us how to love. Not loving someone because they are related to us, or because they live on our street and happen to be our age, but because we feel a connection to them. Now, as grown-ups, we all know that toys are only toys and our love is wasted on them. I suppose that’s what is so haunting about these films. They remind us all of that part of ourselves that left us many years ago, and dredge up guilty feelings about old Rebecca the Christmas Bear who now sits, dusty in the attic somewhere...if she’s lucky.
Toy Story 3 deals with just that idea. It is about what happens to the toys when Andy grows up. The film begins with the toys in a typically epic adventure. It is complex, it involves teamwork and it could be dangerous. As it turns out, the toys are plotting a very complicated ploy to get Andy to play with them. He is 19 now, and headed off to college. The toys have been sitting in their chest for years now, without being played with at all. When a chain of events see the toys accidentally donated to a day-care facility, the race is on for the toys to be reunited with their owner before he leaves for college.
If the first film was sci-fi, the second was a western then this is a prison movie. Their “great escape” is just as exciting and fresh as the previous two outings and certainly just as hilarious. However, what makes this film special is that it balances heartbreak and loss with warm-hearted sentiment so it never feels depressing, but certainly has a sense of tragedy looming throughout. We know there can be no happy ending and that whatever comes our way in the third act will make us sad, but the journey there is so joyous that the tone never gets too blue.
Writing about Toy Story 3 is difficult because it is not about the little bits of clever writing and brilliantly realised characters or perfectly balance sense of humour. This film is so much more than the sum of its parts. It accomplishes what so few children’s films can. It gives equal pleasure to children and grown-ups. It manages to entertain but also make the audience feel truly invested in the fate of these characters...these toys! No easy task!
This is perfect popcorn viewing for all the family and I dare you to sit through this film without at least a small lump in your throat. If this film doesn’t make your heart simultaneously jump for joy and burst with emotion, you’re made of stone!

- Charlene Lydon


Written & Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard
Rating: 10/10
What do we ask for in a summer blockbuster? What is it that incites hysteria this time every year for whatever dross the studios churn out? Epic hugeness? Blowing stuff up? Romance? Action? Heroes? What are we looking for in a blockbuster? I think it all boils down to thrills! Audiences want the thrill of a car chase, the thrill of romance, the thrill of the spectacular! If that is the case, then Inception just might be the greatest summer blockbuster of all time as it also contains something we often don’t look for...brains!
“What is the most resilient parasite? An idea” says Leonardo Di Caprio's character Cobb. Well, Inception is all about ideas. It’s all right there in the title. The film central idea revolves around “Extractors”, who are paid to extract secrets from people’s subconscious minds by sneaking into their dreams, usually for the purpose of corporate espionage. However, when one client asks them to plant an idea in the mind of their corporate rival, “Inception” is born.
The less said about this film the better. It is full of ideas and invention and for each set piece I divulge, a piece of the film’s genius is weakened. This is a film that cleverly and intricately brings the audience through several planes of existence simultaneously but never allows the viewer to feel lost. Such is the power of Christopher Nolan’s script which, I imagine, is likely to get overlooked due to the sheer visual magnificence of his direction. But everything that makes this film so great is in the script...in the ideas! Everything else is just spectacle.
This film bears an uncanny resemblance, thematically, with DiCaprio’s other instant classic this year, Shutter Island. Both films investigate in depth the tricks a traumatised mind can play on the individual. Both films are luscious to watch and both films keep the audience firmly outside the realm of reality. However, Inception is an even more layered film than Shutter Island and I believe the sci-fi genre setting will prove to be less alienating for audiences than the prison noir of Scorsese’s film.
There is not a single dull moment in Nolan’s film. There is style, charm and intelligence in every frame of the film. Every performance is pitch-perfect with some strong support by Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt particularly who have grown up right before our eyes into undeniable movie stars. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a typically flawless performance as the muddled, grieving man who we never quite trust to be living in the real world. The best part of Inception is the large amount of effects which were done in camera. While the film does make use of CGI, there are some pretty mind-blowing practical effects which are as simple as the camera telling beautiful lies; a rare treat these days.
This is a blockbuster that ticks all the boxes; smart, sexy (femme fatale, sexy brainy girl, very beautiful men in very beautiful suits) and magical. Inception is the kind of film that reminds me why cinema will never die. Because anyone who thinks it’s ok to watch this film on a laptop or iPad is a fool! This is pure cinema, and proud of it. Not to be missed on the big screen!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Film Ireland "Get Into Film"

Everybody be sure to pick up the current issue of Film Ireland and check out my COVER STORY, Get Into Film, a 5-page argument for why you should go to film school! I also have a review of the very interesting Pyjama Girls and a wonderful little On-Set Horror Story by director Conor McMahon...if you like your stories maggoty, this one is or you!
So pick up your copy before they all get eaten up at the Galway Film Fleadh. Meanwhile here's my ridiculously comprehensive list of film courses available in Ireland:


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Good Hair

Directed by: Jeff Stilson
Starring: Chris Rock, Rev. Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Maya Angelou
Rating: 5/5
I have to say, the topic of this documentary had me curious from the get-go because I was simply interested to see if it could possibly make a decent documentary. Well, the answer is yes, it most definitely did. Good Hair came to fruition after Chris Rock’s young daughter asked him “why don’t I have good hair?” Being a man, he had no idea how to answer the question but began to ask himself, what is good hair? What does good hair mean to a black woman and what does hair say about African-American identity?
His search brings him to a hair convention in Atlanta, a barbershop in Harlem, a temple in India and many other interesting places. To discuss here what truths Chris Rock reveals in this documentary would ruin the element of surprise, as some of the content is actually quite shocking. However, Rock never attempts to be Michael Moore. The subject is treated with amusement and respect but never over-dramatic or heavy. Chris Rock proves to be a smart, funny guide through the black hair industry and he makes the film a joy to watch at all times. There was not one dull moment in this documentary, every point that is discussed is utterly fascinating and usually hilarious.
There is a sad reality that black women’s sense of beauty is based on Asian and European women’s hair and that these women feel having and Afro is seen as unkempt. There are two popular alternatives. One is relaxant, which straightens black women’s hair. This relaxant is a frighteningly potent chemical which strips the hair and burns the scalp, but it permanently straightens the hair. The other option is a weave, which is a fascinating concoction. A weave is a wig, literally sewn into the hair. It takes hours to fit and they are jaw-droppingly expensive. Rather chauvinistically, but still very interesting, Rock chooses to focus not on the economic ramifications of this constant expense in black women’s lives, but rather the expense on black men. He asks if they worry when they meet a woman, about paying for their weaves for potentially the rest of their lives. He discusses with them the issue of touching the weave. Apparently, this is a big problem between black men and women, one man claiming he hasn’t touched a black woman’s hair since 1986, and he remembers that occasion vividly.
Good Hair is an exceptional documentary which manages to shock, while making you laugh. It is brimming with loveable and fascinating characters and most importantly, it is infused with a sense of fun and good natured curiosity. This is delightfully insightful and incredibly entertaining. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. The random story of black women’s hair is one of the most fascinating stories you’ll see all year. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself!
-          Charlene Lydon

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Rating: 3/10
I’m sorry to report that this third installation in the infernal Twilight franchise is disappointingly similar to its predecessors. I had been hoping that director David Slade who is responsible for the fang-tastic 30 Days of Night might have injected the franchise with the dose of blood that it so desperately needs. Unfortunately, it seems he is as sanitised as the others. It is very clear that these film are so desperately in need of the tween audience that the filmmakers refuse to allow any glimpse of gore; even going so far as a focus pull when the villainous Victoria bites someone’s neck and making it so vampires heads smash like glass when they die! No blood n guts here, no sir!
This instalment follows Victoria planning vengeance for her boyfriend’s death at the hands of Edward (way back in the first movie) by trying to kill Bella. Of course this sparks a war between the evil vamps and the veggie vamps. As the evil vamps recruit an army of newborns the veggie’s join forces with the werewolves in a truce formed with Bella’s best interest at heart.
Meanwhile, Bella must choose between the very lovely Jacob who will love and protect her forever and ever and Edward who will make her a vampire and she can fend for herself. Bella’s decision to become a vampire, thus losing her soul, for the love of a boy is made even more troubling by the fact that she seems hardly distressed by the thought of ending her life. Despite pretty much everyone telling her it is a bad decision, she is staunch in her determination to do it. I dread to imagine the suicide tallies in a few years time if this is the stuff that is feeding our young teenagers imaginations.
Although this is certainly the least boring of the three films so far, it is as still almost completely devoid of humour, and the story structure is bafflingly tedious. The problem is that every dramatic setup is merely a way for the audience to gain insight into how much Edward and Jacob love Bella. There’s never a sense of danger, because we know that none of them die and despite the beautifully desolate cinematography (by Javier Aguirresrobe, fast becoming my favourite), there is not enough darkness to ever really thrill the audience. Eclipse tricks the audience into thinking that there is a dark, fearsome story going on but really it is just sanitised nonsense with no bite to it whatsoever. I cried for sex, blood and rock n roll after the first two films and hoped this film might give us some of that but unfortunately it has become clear that this franchise just doesn’t have the balls!
If you’re a Twi-hard you know not to bother reading reviews anyway, but this is definitely the best of the bunch. For those of you who haven’t been seduced, this probably won’t be the one to do it. That being said, Eclipse is shot beautifully, there are topless werewolves aplenty and it is far less boring than the last two films.
-          Charlene Lydon

Woody Allen: When it Works, it Works

Woody Allen's new film, Whatever Works hits screens this week. This enjoyable and heartfelt comedy is one of his more likeable efforts in recent years. Consistency has never been Woody Allen's strong point. His repertoire has certainly had incredible moments of genius but it is also peppered with some unfortunate cases of mediocrity and even some downright terrible films (Curse of the Jade Scorpion, anyone?). In the 50 years or so that Woody has been making movies, the divide between the good and the bad films have grown into canyons. Perhaps the reason for this is that Woody Allen is one of the only directors who has complete and total creative control over all of his work. That luxury is every director's dream, but perhaps it is sometimes more of hindrance than a help.

When watching one of Allen's less successful endeavours one can't help but wonder if the film would have been improved by someone telling him to cop himself on. One of his most notorious commercial failures was the 2007 film Cassandra's Dream starring Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor. This film is definitely amongst his darker work, a twisted morality tale that balances broad comedy and philosophy very nicely indeed. Cassandra's Dream is a beautiful script with two first-class leading actors. The problem is it feels like it was directed by an amateur. It is an ugly film to watch, with no regard for style or attention to detail. The performances felt somewhat stilted, and despite the best efforts of the cast, the film just felt a little "off". Maybe this script could have become the film it deserved to be if it had a director who put in the effort, or if that director had perhaps had some studio standards to comply with.

That being said, for every Cassandra's Dream, there's a Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a joyous celebration of love and life that proves beyond any doubt that he's still got the skills and they're as sharp as they were in the 70's. Watching Whatever Works evokes questions about the pros and cons of the way Woody Allen makes films. Despite the inconsistency in the quality of his output Allen is still pumping out at least one film a year, sometimes more. Some of them are wonderfully fresh and honest, while others are contrived and bordering on self-parody. Whatever Works is fortunately one of his better efforts. It feels in every way like classic Woody Allen, and Larry David proves to be inspired casting in the leading role. In the film he plays Boris, a grumpy, ageing science genius who embarks upon a relationship with beautiful young bimbo Melody (a wonderful Evan Rachel Wood) and as a result gets pulled into her world and the world of her family. Slowly but surely, Boris' life and attitudes begin to change as he realises that over-thinking things isn't always wise and that life is all about "whatever works".

The charm of this film lies in the simplicity and beauty of its central philosophy. If looked at within that context, Allen's career can be given a brand new perspective. Maybe this is more than just a nice story, maybe this explains a lot about Woody's work in recent years. His films can be seen as experiments, as ideas that he brings to fruition by any means necessary. Some of them become great films, some of them become giant failures, but Woody's intention is to be as prolific as possible in the hope that all of his stories get told, some more successfully than others. It might be said that he believes that, at this late stage in his life, he can afford to take risks and hope for the best. Instead of getting bogged down in trying to find perfection, maybe he feels that it is a case of "whatever works" when it comes to his films.

Woody Allen is one of those rare people in the world who is so ingrained in modern culture that there is nothing he can't survive. He has survived a very public failed marriage, a gigantic sex scandal, and a string of commercial failures. The fact that his films are rarely commercially successful has never resulted in an inability to get more films made. Woody Allen is a legend, and I can't think of another director about whom the phrase "return to form" has been used so much. His audience can rest assured that if he makes a bad movie, chances are, his next one will make up for it. His legendary status allows him the freedom to do whatever he pleases. The idea that Woody is simply trying to get every story he has in his brain on to the big screen is noble enough to forgive any missteps he has taken along the way. At the end of the day, he is still one of the most brilliant filmmakers working today and it is clear that he still has plenty to say about the human condition and the complex nature of love. And let's not forget beneath the clever philosophising, he is a razor-sharp comedian and a genius wordsmith and that will always make a Woody Allen film in some way enjoyable. Despite his hiccups, there are still great moments of brilliance to Woody Allen's career and at 75 years old, the cultural awareness in his films is admirable. It‘s safe to say that although his experiments are not always successful, when it works, it really, really works.

 - Charlene Lydon for Totally Dublin.