Monday, November 14, 2011

rukkle wins People's Choice

I am absolutely DELIGHTED to announce that a website that I contribute to regularly and one which happens to be the ingenious brain-child of a great friend of mine won a major public vote and was
presented with a prestigious Big Mouth 2011 Eircom Spider Award by Dara O'Briain in the Convention Centre, Dublin.

The Spiders are an annual event honouring Irish individuals and organisations
for their outstanding achievements online and are considered an important
benchmark for distinction and merit in web-based business strategies. (AKA The
oscars for us web nerds!!!)

Congratulations to Dave and to rukkle for a well-deserved win!!

Read more here:

Follow rukkle on and

Monday, November 07, 2011

Highlights from BFI London Film Festival

I went positively square-eyed for five days of non-stop cinema-going in London for Volta  at the 2011 BFI London Film Festival last week. Here is a run-down of what we learned and some of the films you should look out for in your local cinema in the coming months.
The Artist - France, dir. Michel Hazanavicius 
A sneaky hope for this years Oscars? This inventive and charming silent film is so authentic that it is impossible not to fall in love with it. But can a black & white, silent comedy win over the multiplex audience? We'll have to wait and see! With extremely likeable performances from the two leads, Jean Dujardin channelling Gene Kelly and Bernice Bejo as a rising starlet, the film is slyly post-modern but joyfully unironic. Check your cynicism at the door.

Watch the trailer here:

Lotus Eaters - UK/Ireland, dir. Alexandra McGuinness 
Alexandra McGuinness directs and co-writes this insight into the London hipster scene. Although it's difficult to engage with the characters whose incessant vapid ramblings make up the bulk of the film, the film doesn't judge, nor does it glamourise. It serves as a window and the world McGuinness creates is so believable that it feels very much like we are watching a summer in the lives of these people. Filmed in crisp black and white with a fashion-conscious eye, McGuinness has a stylish edge to her filmmaking that should make her one to watch. Watch the trailer here:

Bernadette Devlin: Notes on a Political Journey - Ireland, dir. Leila Doolin 
The fascinating story of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is brought to life in this documentary by Leila Doolan which tracks Bernadette's rise to power in the 1970's all the way through her political carrer and her most recent struggle, the attempted extradition of her daughter Roisin to Germany. Voted to UK parliament as a 21 year old student, Bernadette Devlin became a passionate international voice for the troubles in Northern Ireland. Mixing some fantastic archive material with present-day interviews with the subject herself, the film marvels at the massive impact one simple, intelligent voice can have on a global scale.

Take Shelter - US, dir. Jeff Nichols 
A man sees hallucinatory visions of an impending storm and must decide whether he is a prophet or a madman. That is the quite simple setup of this brilliant family drama/horror film from director Jeff Nichols who re-teams with actor Michael Shannon for the second time (the first being his very interesting Shotgun Stories). Filmed in just four week with a miniscule budget, the film is a masterpiece in atmosphere and tension. Michael Shannon, already an Oscar nominee for his performance in Revolutionary Road, puts in what could be the best performance of his career to date as a man struggling with his mental health. Definitely worth a watch for the magnificent storm sequences alone. Watch the trailer here:

Martha Marcy May Marlene - US, dir. Sean Durkin
One of the films that got the most buzz at the festival was this drama/thriller. A dreamy, beautiful film which deals with the psychological aftermath of a girl who has escaped from a cult. Starring Elizabeth Olsen who will surely be in a casting tizzy after this, the film focusses on Martha's life after leaving the cult; the paranoia, the sense of isolation, and the craving to return to the arms of terrifying but charismatic leader Patrick (a brilliant John Hawkes). There are flashbacks to life at the commune but these serve mainly to highlight Martha's current state of mind than to give the audience a look at the machinations of a cult. Though some might find the lack of conclusive storytelling frustrating, the characters, the performances and the ambitious intent of the film will surely gain the film some fans. Masterful and chilling. Watch the trailer here:

The Descendants - US, dir. Alexander Payne 
Alexander Payne's latest drama, The Descendants, is a film far superior to its potentially melodramatic set-up. A woman lies in a coma, waiting to die and her husband realises she has been having an affair and must come to terms with the mistakes they have made as a family before letting her go. Payne masterfully gets to the genuine human experience at the heart of the story and proves himself yet again one of cinema's great pain merchants. He cuts to the bone, allowing the audience intimate access to spectrum of subtle feelings one might experience at such a time. As always though, Payne infuses the extremely heavy subject matter with just the right touch of light-heartedness. Funny, touching and intelligent, The Descendants is a far better film than expected. Judge for yourself, hee's the trailer:

Miss Bala - Mexico, dir. Gerardo Naranjo 
A beauty pageant hopeful from the slums of Tijuana becomes inadvertently involved in cross-border gangland warfare. This disquieting, sad and innovative film is a well-paced and unique addition to the gang crime genre. Director Naranjo handles the slow drama and the gory action set-pieces with equal finesse. Definitely a filmmaker to watch, and credit must go to Stephanie Sigman who must carry the film almost silently, and does so with tremendous grace and delicacy. Watch the trailer here:

Nobody Else But You (Poupoupidou) - France, dir. Gerald Hustache-Mathieu 
This fun, French, small-town murder mystery centres on the apparent suicide of a beautiful local celebrity whose journals help investigators figure out how she wound up dead in the snow. The girl's story parallels the life and death of Marilyn Monroe in many different ways and the film is a form of conspiracy theory about what really happened to Marilyn. Quirky, intriguing and atmospheric, this film is a unique story, well told. Watch the trailer here:

Shame - UK, dir. Steve McQueen 
Hunger director Steve McQueen teams up with Michael Fassbender again as they delve into the murky world of sex addiction. We follow Brandon as he lives from day-to-day trying to ensure his life never gets in the way of his intense sexual urges. There is no easy way to explore this subject matter but McQueen has created a cold but sympathetic portrait of a man with a very complex set of neuroses. Gorgeous-looking, challenging and featuring a superb perfrmance from Fassbender. 

Bernie - US, dir. Richard Linklater 
Richard Linklater teams up with Jack Black for this dark comedy about a beloved local mortician who murders his abhorrent elderly companion and keeps her in the freezer for nine months. The film is based on a true story and feels very authentic as Linklater sets the film in his home state of Texas. A strong performance by the Jack Black and a number of suberb supporting characters makes this a fun, likeable black comedy.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - UK, dir. Lynne Ramsey 
A devastating account of a mother's struggle with her disturbed son and her dissection of the reasons behind his violent attack on his school. Beautifully shot by Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and featuring an outstanding, conflicted performance by Tilda Swinton, this film won Best Film at the festival and it's easy to see why punters and critics alike were so taken with it.
Check out the trailer here:
Snowtown - Australia, dir. Justin Kurzel Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel's debut film tells the story of notorious serial killer John Bunting and his influence on a young man whose home life is extremely unpleasant. When Bunting comes into his family's life his charismatic charm seduces him, his mother and the rest of the community. Soon, Bunting is rallying friends to "rid" the town of its paedophiles, homosexuals and junkies. Often abstract, very dark and harrowing throughout.
Watch the trailer on YouTube:

For more articles on the best of independent cinema please go check out Ireland's best VOD resource, Volta.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take Shelter

Written & Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham

Rating: 9/10

From the opening moments of this dark, dreamy tale it is clear that we are in for something quite extraordinary. Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter begins with a nightmare and continues as such even after our protagonist Curtis LaForche wakes up.

Curtis’s nightmare comes in the form of a storm. Ominous clouds roll towards him, black and imposing and spitting greasy, yellow rain. This opening sequence, indicative of the rest of the film, is terrifying, beautiful and full of awe at nature’s power. When the dreams continue, and start to come in the form of waking hallucinations, Curtis must decide whether he is a prophet or a lunatic.

There is a history of mental illness in Curtis’ family as we see when he visits his mother, now in full-time care for paranoid schizophrenia.Curtis has untapped fears surrounding his own mental health and is terrified that he is starting to lose his grip on reality. However, he takes a “better safe than sorry” approach and begins to obsessively build a storm shelter so that he might keep his family safe if a storm does come.

The bulk of the film looks at Curtis’ declining mental health. Is he slipping further into some kind of hereditary psychosis or is he driving himself insane with paranoia? His descent into madness is terrifying to watch and while the film never really quite decides whether he is a prophet or a madman it keeps its feet firmly planted in reality and never loses sight of the true intention of the film, to watch a man as he disintegrates.

There is something very Cronenbergian about the crisis of masculinity going on in Take Shelter and the violent way in which it manifests itself. Also, the issue of the role of the man as provider and the loss of control in the current worldwide recession is a theme at the forefront of a lot of people's minds and one which is tackled here with grace and terrifying thoughtfulness. Curtis is a kind, loving husband and father but his paranoia, his fears for his family and his fears for his own sanity drive him to some very erratic behaviour that might have disastrous results for his family, storm or no storm. The relationship between Curtis and his wife and daughter is realistic and Jessica Chastain's earthy beauty compliments the character's strength, trust, intelligence and warmth just perfectly. As they struggle to keep their marriage together despite Curtis's many misadventures, one can feel her shock that something that was once so strong could be taken from her so cruelly.

Take Shelter is a beautiful film. It is a lyrical film and it is a poetic film. It is not necessarily a film that provides answers but it is not ever trying to riddle you. The script is tight, pitch-perfect and nicely paced suggesting that Jeff Nichols is as skilled as a writer as he is a director. Shot with unbelievable beauty by lenser Adam Stone, the film looks and feels profoundly alluring and is a pleasure to behold throughout. However, the real heart of the film rests on the shoulders of  Michael Shannon, who is superb here as the desperate Curtis. He is cuddly enough to be sympathetic but giant enough to be terrifying. His performance is a towering achievement and, in my eyes, cements him as one of the most interesting actors working today. This is the kind of performance that rarely comes around and he tackles the subtle moments and the melodrama with equal elegance. If there is something to be said against the film it is the final few minutes which have proven to be divisive for audiences. However, I felt that the more the ending sat with me and I mulled it over in my head, the more I felt comfortable with it and the looming question mark it leaves the audience with.

Part family drama, part disaster movie, part psychological thriller and part horror, this truly unique film must be seen on the big screen if at all possible and I can only implore people to make the effort to go out and give this film your money. Take Shelter is a low-budget (not that you can tell) masterpiece that truly deserves your attention.

 - Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Film With Me In It

Written by: Mark Doherty

Directed by: Ian Fitzgibbon

Starring: Dylan Moran, Mark Doherty, Amy Huberman, David O'Doherty

Rating: 8/10

Ian Fitzgibbon's black comedy A Film With Me In It is a dark, funny, grimy and somewhat depressing comedy, with a tone akin to Withnail and I that somehow makes the protagonists genuinely bleak disposition part of the overall charm. The less you know about the plot the better so I won't get into a summary here. But I will say this; your enjoyment of this film will depend on how much you will allow yourself to suspend disbelief. It is a film about coincidence and the lengths to which fate will go to in order to screw you over.

Mark, a struggling actor, lives with his invalid brother Dave and his beautiful girlfriend Sally in a run-down flat on the south-side of Dublin. His best friend Pierce (Dylan Moran) is an alcoholic writer whose comically morose outlook on life is the main comic relief in the film. Mark is behind in his rent, jobless and in trouble with Sally because he is too chicken to ask the gruff landlord to fix the many, many problems in their flat. Things go from bad to worse to downright cruel for Mark as a series of accidents land him in some seriously hot water.

The comedy here lies in the cruel joke that the universe in playing on the hapless Mark. He finds himself in a situation so implausible that there's no way to convince anyone that it is not of his own making. The aesthetic and humour are so pitch black that it can sometimes be difficult to endure but the snappy pacing and the clever dialogue keeps the film consistently entertaining. The chemistry between the leads is wonderful and it's easy to buy into the friendship between the pair of curmudgeonly grumps whose only emission of warmth is towards each other, and only on occasion. They are grumpy, they are sarcastic and you can't imagine why a girl like Sally would ever bother with either of them but they are also oddly likeable and as their situation gets more and more sticky you can't help but sympathise. I'm reminded of the under-rated dark comedies of Danny DeVito, films like The War of the Roses, Death to Smoochy and Our House, all films whose black hearts make for unsettling and guilty laughs, but laughs nonetheless. How much torture can we watch our heroes go through? It's an endurance test alright, but A Film With Me In It is likeable, well-plotted and has a hilariously nasty payoff.

Worth a watch.

Available from 30th September here

 - Charlene Lydon

Monday, September 26, 2011

Red White & Blue

Written & Directed by: Simon Rumley

Starring: Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter

Rating: 7/10

Independent U.S. thriller Red White and Blue is a fascinating specimen indeed. As delicate in its portrayal of love as it is explicit in its portrayal of violence, the film begins as a strangely voyeuristic exploitation film, playing like a series of vignettes and ends as an intensely non-judgmental exploration of moral boundaries. Unique and certain to plague your thoughts for a long time after it ends, this is a thoroughly original, though not entirely successful piece of work from director Simon Rumley.

Erica is a dark, damaged young woman who enjoys picking up men in seedy bars, but never sleeps with the same one twice. She keeps to herself, doesn't "do friendship" and is generally a closed book. Nate is an army vet, with links to the CIA who has a history of animal torture and lives in Erica's building. He is as damaged as Erica but with a slightly more vulnerable air. Erica is interested in this mysterious stranger but doesn't want to sleep with him. It must be love. Meanwhile Franki, a rock musician who indulged in an orgy with his bandmates and Erica has received some shocking news that sets up the final, gruesome act.

It's unfair to categorise this as a horror film as there is nothing here designed to scare the audience. It is not a film that keeps you in suspense either. Red White and Blue is very much a human drama, despite it's showy display of violence towards the end. The central couple, Erica and Nate, are two tragic characters and their slow bonding and eventual coming together is the stuff of indie drama, not horror, but there is a looming sense of tragedy as we see flashes of a seriously dark side to Nate, an otherwise extremely likeable character. In fact, he is so likeable that this makes the final half hour even more difficult to watch since you can't help but feel his pain and you may enter some very murky moral ground.

The film is structured in such a way that the focus shifts between characters. We start off with Erica who is played by a perfectly cast Amanda Fuller. Her performance is brave, subtle and so interesting that she goes from unlikeable to desperately sad and vulnerable as the film goes on. The second character we explore is Franki and a huge problem for me watching the film is that I couldn't bring myself to like this character no matter how hard I tried. As with the other characters, he has his dark side and his light side but I just couldn't stand him. Maybe it's my dislike for soul-searching hipster types but not being able to sympathise with him really dampened my enjoyment of the film, particularly as events begin to unfold. If this character had worked better I think the plot as a whole would have felt more effective. By far the best thing about the film is the great Noah Taylor, digging right down into the pits of darkness for this role and giving us a side of him we haven't seen before. A genuinely scary, monstrous romantic lead. The blend of innocence, sweetness and pure psychotic rage ensures that the audiences head is spinning by the end of the film. The final shot of the film is somewhat heartbreaking and in a nice little play on time perception, we get a rather poignant little twist in the tale that reminds us exactly what the film is really about. Two damaged people who, for a fleeting second, found love.

With nothing to go on but the fact that Noah Taylor was in it (pretty safe bet) and a pretty frightening trailer I gave this film a chance and I'm glad I did. While the film definitely has its problems, I was pleasantly surprised to find that beneath its gruesome surface it is a film with a big heart and, in an unconventional way, wears it on its sleeve. The film will not be to everyone's taste but it has a certain resonance that is all too rare in genre films.

The film will be released in the UK on 10th October.

 - Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Friends With Benefits

Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins

Rating: 4/10

It boggles the mind how two films with strikingly similar concepts and a strikingly similar cast can go on release within six months of each other. February saw the release of No Strings Attached, a rom-com starring Black Swan actress Natalie Portman and Hollywood a-lister Ashton Kutcher about friends who enter into a physical relationship without the emotional pressure of a normal relationship. Neither wants a relationship but enjoy the comfort of each others beds. That is until they start to realise they were made for each other. Now we have Friends With Benefits, starring Black Swan actress Mila Kunis and Hollywood a-lister Justin Timberlake, with exactly the same plot. Perhaps it’s simply an unfortunate coincidence that these two films exist in such close proximity and since I thought No Strings Attached was pretty awful I quite hoped Friends With Benefits would be a bit more likeable.
Dylan (Timberlake) is an LA website developer who is recruited to work for GQ magazine in New York. He is met at the airport by Jamie (Kunis), a beautiful, quirky girl who helps him settle in to the very different world of Manhattan. Tired of frustrating failed relationships the pair enter into a sexually-charged friendship on the basis that they don’t need to get bogged down with the politics of dating. It’s all going well until they start to realise they’re made for each other.

Friends With Benefits starts well. The co-stars are glamorous, likeable and their on-screen chemistry really works. The audience has a great time watching them together and the bawdiness of their sexploits makes for a few giggles. A lot of time is spent making fun of conventional rom-coms, with a fictional film referenced throughout (starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segal) as an example of how manufactured and delusional the world of rom-coms are. This is the film’s way of declaring itself the anti-rom-com. But then what does it go and do? It bloody well becomes the most sappy, conventional rom-com of them all! In the process it also loses all sense of fun and the giddy naughtiness of the first half becomes overtaken by family drama and issues with trust and self-doubt.

There is something infuriatingly smug about a film that pokes so much fun at its own genre but then refuses to think outside of the box defined by generic convention. It’s a bad case of having your cake and eating it too…and even worse, it’s a waste of the breezy charms of its superb co-stars! Unfortunately this starts well but becomes a complete bore by the end, dampened even further by a terribly cheesy ending. If you have a high tolerance for bad romantic comedies, you might enjoy this but if you’re expecting the edgy, sophisticated comedy the first act promises, you will probably be very angry by the time the credits roll. Disappointing!

- Charlene Lydon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Skin I Live In

Written & Directed by: Pedro Almodovar

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet

Rating: 10/10

As a longtime fan of Pedro Almodovar's films, I will admit the trailer for his latest film The Skin I Live In left me somewhat baffled (see embedded trailer below). Having now seen the film however, I see the method in his madness. The trailer tells you little or nothing about the film but bombards the viewer with crazy images which are in retrospect probably designed to confuse. The trailer serves the purpose of telling the viewer very little of what the film is about while titillating with striking visuals. A bold move but an effective one, because the less you know about this film going in the better.

With that in mind, I'll keep this review short and will try not to give anything away. Antonio Banderas plays a rather unhinged scientist who is keeping a beautiful young woman prisoner in his home while using her as a human guinea pig for a new type of synthetic human skin. That's about as much information as you need. As the story unfolds, petal by petal in that flower-like way we've become accustomed to seeing from Almodovar, each scene adds wonder and flavour to an already robust set-up. Moving at a break-neck pace, not a frame is without beauty and not a second is wasted without pushing the story along. This screenplay is extremely polished and beautifully nuanced.

As usual, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine delivers beautifully vibrant visuals, but unlike other Almodovar films, this palette is decidedly less colourful, sticking mainly to Cronenbergian metallic colours fused with fleshy tones but with the odd gash of vibrant colour. It is as beautiful to behold as any other Almodovar film, but perhaps less garish.

In a film that relies on ambiguity in so many ways the cast here must be commended. Delicate balances are achieved by all concerned and it's wonderful to see Antonio Banderas settling into the rather unsettling role of Dr. Robert Ledgard. He exudes the same charisma and sexual bravura that made him famous but without the least whiff of sex symbol status coming through in the performance. He is creepy, strangely alluring and underplays the "mad scientist" bit admirably. Elena Anayas also impresses in a very challenging performance both physically and emotionally, both of which are perfectly effective as her story unfolds. A brilliant character who may not have been so impressive in the hands of a less capable actress. The camera intimately caresses her face and body throughout and she steadfastly rises to the challenge of being as beautiful a muse as a director could ask for.

It is unlikely that Almodovar will win over any new fans with The Skin I Live In but he will surely satisfy his already massive fanbase. A dark, thoughtful, frightening piece but never shying away from the heights of melodrama that Almodovar is known for, this sits beautifully on the line between Cronenberg at his best and a crazy soap opera.

Unique, gothic and delightfully melodramatic! I love it!

 - Charlene Lydon

Friday, August 05, 2011

Interview with KNUCKLE director Ian Palmer

Here's my video interview with Ian Palmer, the director of fantastic documentary KNUCKLE which follows two traveller families who are involved in the scary world of bareknuckle boxing.

KNUCKLE is available to stream or download here:

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Spider" short film

Written by: Nash Edgerton and David Michod

Directed by Nash Edgerton

Starring: Nash Edgerton, Mirrah Foulkes

The people who brought you The Square and Animal Kingdom combine their powers here to great cinematic effect. I shall say no more...just watch!

It's all fun and games until someone loses and eye...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Written by: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Directed by Seth Gordon

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell

Rating: 8/10

If it’s satisfying, edgy summer comedy you’re after look no further! Horrible Bosses is naughty enough to ensure the odd shocked snigger, but funny enough to ensure you don’t spend too long shifting uncomfortably in your seat. The plot is simple, three best friends agree to murder each others horrible bosses. Riffing on Strangers on a Train and Throw Momma From the Train (which was itself riffing on Strangers, how very post-post), Horrible Bosses combines the squirmy suspense of the former and the darkly comic nasty streak of the latter to produce a very enjoyable and funny comedy.

Nick (Bateman) is working for a faceless corporation and taking all kinds of rubbish from his boss Dave (Kevin Spacey) with a view to an impending promotion. Dale is being sexually harassed by his boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston) and getting little sympathy from his friends and Kurt’s lovely boss just died leaving his cokehead idiot son (Colin Farrell) in charge. The guys are so miserable that they somehow come to the conclusion that their only solution is to “whack” their bosses.

The trick to pulling off this potentially tired little plot is to ensure that the cast of performers are on the ball at all times. Playing it safe with some of TV’s strongest comedy actors Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jason Sudeikis (SNL) and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), the three leads were clearly cast for skill and not box office draw. This ploy works, bigtime! The three actors hit every comic beat and squeeze every ounce of juice out of each joke. As loveable as these guys are, the bosses are equally despicable. Spacey, Aniston and Farrell are clearly having a blast here with their rather vaudeville characters. The chemistry and fun created by the cast reminds me of early Farrelly Brothers movies, where so much of the energy was created by actors just having a blast at being ridiculous. The villains are all breaking out of their usual moulds and playing to their underused comic abilities.

It may not be the most original story but it is delicately plotted so that the many twists and turns are given the right amount of comic punch. Sometimes simple is best and watching these hapless guys indulging this absurd fantasy is about as simple as comedy gets. There’s something about these wish-fulfilment comedies that can playfully strike a chord with something very primal in audiences. This enables a sort of forgiveness that encourages the essential suspension of disbelief. It’s necessary with films like this to avoid thoughts like “there’s no way they’d ACTUALLY do something like this”. That sort of thinking is utterly pointless and denies the viewer the opportunity to enjoy the ride. So, word of warning, this is not a documentary, this is a farcical comedy and should be treated as such.

Apart from the fact that this is rather conventional fare and the end could have used a bit more punch, Horrible Bosses is a hilarious comedy and thanks to the easy-on-the-eye cast and a colourful cinematographer it’s a very pleasant film to watch. The script is tight, the laughs are plentiful, and the jokes are naughty! What more could you want in a summer comedy?!

 - Charlene Lydon (from:

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Guard

Written & Directed by: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot

Rating: 8/10

The Irish sense of humour is a strange beast; disrespectful but warm, xenophobic but friendly, indignant yet self-deprecating. A strange beast it may be but it is also one of this nations finest attributes. With The Guard, John Michael McDonagh has managed to capture the spirit of Irish humour with all it's darkness and all it's irreverent charm. Following Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) during an uncharacteristically action-packed week on the beat in rural Galway, the film sees three philosphising drug smugglers arriving in town, followed closely by straight-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle).

Gerry is smart as a whip but doesn't suffer fools gladly and likes to indulge in drink, drugs and prostitutes whenever possible. He is not your conventional rural Irish guard. His intolerance of the bureaucracy involved in police work, especially a big case like this, is the backbone of the character but essentially he is also a man of great integrity and compassion where he feels it's deserved. As he becomes unwittingly embroiled in this case, Gerry manages to offend but ultimately endear himself to the straight-laced American Wendell  Everett, who is getting something of a hard time from the locals. Over time these two highly intelligent men from completely different backgrounds learn to respect each other amidst a sea of mind games and cutting jibes flying both ways.

Don't be fooled by the elements of "bromance", The Guard is a character study, plain and simple. The plot and the supporting cast are secondary to exploring this fascinating character. Brendan Gleeson relishes the role of a lifetime with class, dignity and humour, allowing the character to remain just mysterious enough that we never know what to expect of him. This bravura performance helps to cover up some of the flaws in the film, most notably, the poor direction especially when it comes to the final act action scenes. As streamlined as the script is, the film would have benefited hugely from a more experienced director. That being said The Guard is hugely enjoyable, the jokes are killer, the main cast are superb and there is just enough intelligence to raise the bar, but not enough to make it feel pretentious.

Credit must go to Mark Strong, David Wilmot and Liam Cunningham for their portrayal of a trio of drug smugglers who are smart enough to know not to underestimate Gerry but stupid enough to think that they could emerge victorious. They are funny but somehow also menacing, giving the film an essential sense of danger. The dark undertones in the film help to ensure that audiences know that there is always something at stake and this is not your average comedy.

The Guard is exactly what the Irish film industry needs right now, a brave, solid genre film with enough substance to endear itself to an international market. With a cracking cast, an endlessly quotable script and a unique voice, this film is undoubtedly a classic of Irish cinema.

 - Charlene Lydon

Cell 211

Written by: Jorge Guerricercaechevarria, Daniel Monzon

Directed by: Daniel Monzon

Starring: Alberto Ammann, Luis Tosar, Marta Etura

Rating: 7/10

It is Juan Oliver's first day as a prison officer, a job he took to provide for his wife and forthcoming baby. Juan Oliver is a quiet, earnest, likeable young man with a more than usually intuitive. Unfortunately for him, as he is being given the tour of the prison all hell breaks loose as the prisoners attack the guards and take over the prison. Left for dead, abandoned by the guards, Juan Oliver finds himself stuck in the prison with no hope of escape. In order to survive, he poses as a new inmate and manages to befriend the leader of the prisoner, the powerfully charismatic but terrifying Malamadre (which, I believe translates as "son of a bitch").

As Juan Oliver becomes deeper embroiled in the negotiations and rises quickly through the ranks to become Malamadre's right hand man, he begins to see the dark underbelly of the authorities and his loyalty is swayed as his somewhat naive and optimistic view of the institution he works for falls asunder.

As a thriller, Cell 211 is a superior effort. The screenplay is intelligent, tight and well paced. The characters are defined and believable while the universally strong performances bring nuance to what could easily have been just a bunch of thugs. Recalling similar film like John Hillcoat's remarkable Ghosts of the Civil Dead and Hector Babenco's Carandiru (with which this film shares many traits), Cell 211 is a prison thriller that delivers. It may not be emotionally visceral enough to leave you haunted afterwards, but it is certainly a slick, brilliantly executed film. Director Daniel Monzon does not shy away from violence and cruelty, nor does he revel in it. There is a refreshing respect and fear of pain in this film. Every act of violence, whatever the reason behind it is harrowing without being gratuitous. The film's strength lies in the fact that we stay with Juan Oliver throughout and even as his character faces the darkest of moments, the audience remains with him, feeling his madness, feeling his pain. However, the film does allow itself to get bogged down in political preachiness which can be tiresome after a while.

The focus on media interaction gives the film a fresh, contemporary spin, setting it apart from other, more claustrophobic prison movies. There is a sense that what's going on outside the prison shocks the prisoners as much as what's happening inside the prison shocks the outside world. A solid effort, Cell 211 deserves an audience and I have no doubt that it will find it. Perhaps it's small theatrical release won't have them coming in their droves but this is one that should catch on with a DVD release. Worth a watch.

 - Charlene Lydon

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Written by: Steve Kloves

Directed by: David Yates

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes

Rating: 8/10

Many years ago, about a decade now, I decided that difficult as it may be I was going to use the medium of film to experience the story of Harry Potter. I decided against reading the books despite the many temptations over the years. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was the culmination of my decade of patience and I was proud of myself for having achieved this small feat. 

As a non-reader of the book I feel I have definitely missed out on some of the more intricate plotting that is glossed over in the films for the sake of brevity. I can feel that some of the characterisation is lacking, as well as a lot of background information that enriches the plot. That being said, these films do a remarkable job at telling the story of Harry, his friends and the magical world he inhabits.

The final chapter of the story is about as hyped as a film could be. A decade of fretting about "he who must not be named" finally pays off as Hogwarts finally faces the Death-Eaters in an epic battle of both wits and magic.

The films opens with the truly breathtaking image of the dreaded Dementors hovering around Hogwarts, now a very different place than the benevolent, warm home to young wizards we’ve come to know and love. This opening shot, dark and beautiful, sets the tone for what is to come. The ensuing film is visually grandiose and emotionally dark enough to ensure that the audience can feel genuinely fearful for the lives of the characters. Anyone could die, it’s a cruel story and Voldemort is a seriously dangerous presence.

The first act of he film sees Harry, Ron and Hermione on an exhilarating chase through a Dickensian goblin bank in search of one of Voldemorts horcruxes (objects where Voldemort has hidden part of his soul in the hope that he will remain immortal). This part of the film is fun and lively but it feel a little redundant as we patiently wait for the real battle to begin. As soon as Harry, Hermione and Ron get back to Hogwarts and are reunited with their friends things start to seriously pick up. Battles are fought, families are torn apart, young lives are lost and secrets are revealed. From this point on, the film becomes everything a fan could have hoped for!

There are some pretty serious plot points that are lost on non-readers like me, as they are washed over in the hope that you’re having so much fun you’ll turn a blind eye. Good strategy and it totally worked! On me at least. I was having way too much fun on the edge of my seat to care that I didn’t quite understand why certain things were happening. It’s cheating of the highest order but at this stage in the story the need for further magical gobbledegook and funny new words is not a priority for me. I’d rather go along for the ride and not have to worry too much about exposition. Anyway, this instalment is strictly about the characters, their relationships and the culmination of everything that has come before and how it has fit together to bring us to this point. This final part of the story is about resolving the story in a meaningful way and giving us an end point for the characters who have so richly (and subtly) evolved throughout the series. At this point, I must mention Neville Longbottom who is a character I dismissed as comic fodder but who surprised me by stepping up to the plate and becoming a true hero in his own right. This is a character who has evolved slowly over the course of series and who has sneaked into our hearts by proving again and again, much like Ron that being born with super wizard skills isn’t everything, it’s overcoming the obstacle of mediocrity that counts.

Having said that, I would be remiss in leaving out the wonderful Malfoy family. I was surprised at where the story took them, but delighted with the non-judgmental sense of understanding and (almost) pity for them as they play their part in the story. Lucius, Narcissus and Draco have long been one of my favourite elements of the Harry Potter universe (not least because of Narcissus’ wonderful hair and costumes) and for me, their story in the final film was immensely satisfying, brave and lacking in sentimentality.

The final act sees some wonderful twists and developments concerning a character that is close to my heart (no spoilers here) and a fresh perspective breathes new life to a character many people may have written off. HP readers will know what I’m referring to but I won’t discuss it any further here for fear of spoiling anything. But I will say this: the plot development in question is the single most wonderful thing the series has ever done and it made every flaw in the series worthwhile, for me at least and opened my eyes to the vastness the story and the clever plotting that has been so subtly interwoven from the very start.

The cultural impact of the Harry Potter books is undeniable and although the films have never quite been masterpieces (except perhaps The Prisoner of Azkaban), they have still consistently made for entertaining blockbusters, always reliable as solid films, if not always perfect. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is not perfect. Yet again, David Yates proves himself to be a mediocre director with a great eye for visuals. The 3D is pointless, I would definitely recommend the 2D version and there are some hugely significant emotional moments in the film that felt much flatter than they should have. However, the film is a triumphant conclusion to the story and a fantastically thrilling summer blockbuster. Prepare to shed a tear or two because things get quite emotional in the second half…

Goodbye for now Harry, Ron, Hermione, Albus, Severus, Draco, Voldemort, et al, I look forward to getting to know you in more depth when I begin the journey all over again in book form!

 - Charlene Lydon

Monday, July 11, 2011

We Love Summer...Weekend at Bernies!

The beauty of summer movies is that they don’t have to be classy, they don’t have to be clever, they just need to be fun! For me at least, Weekend at Bernie’s has a lot to offer those in need of some summer madness. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, here’s the plot in a nutshell. Larry and Richard, two down on their luck office workers uncover an anomaly which suggests someone is ripping off the insurance corporation they work for. Their shady boss Bernie, the real culprit, invites them to his place in The Hamptons during a massive New York heatwave where he plans to have them ‘silenced’. The plot thickens when the dodgy characters Bernie is involved with decide to ‘silence’ him instead, killing him and leaving him propped up at his desk with sunglasses on. When Larry and Richard arrive for their well-deserved weekend of fun, they realise what has happened but fate (and the prospect of ‘getting laid’) intervenes to ensure that they can’t quite find the time to phone the cops.

In the true spirit of ’80s comedy, a lot of over-the-top nonsense ensues whereby Larry and Richard must pretend to everyone, from party to party that Bernie is alive, just kind of ‘wasted’. This is easier than you imagine when everyone’s an airhead, a floozy or just completely hammered for the whole weekend. This is 1980’s New York we’re talking about here, hedonism is rampant for the well-heeled. Weekend at Bernie’s feels like Some Like it Hot crossed with a Bret Easton Ellis novel, completely ridiculous, over the top and slyly commenting on the hollow lifestyles of the rich and famous. Is that a stretch? Maybe it is.
At the heart of Weekend at Bernie’s is the desperate hunger to get out of the heat of Manhattan. The director does a good job of painting a picture of the unpleasantness of New York City in the sticky heatwave. It looks like the last place you’d ever want to be and therefore somewhat believably gives the guys an incentive to want to stay in The Hamptons at all cost. Disbelief must be suspended tremendously if you are to have any fun watching this film, but if you can just roll with it, it’s very funny and has an unjustly ignored fantastic central performance from Terry Kiser as Bernie. For two thirds of the film, he is dead. He has no lines. But the physicality of his performance is more than admirable, it’s downright brilliant!
With a premise like this, you’ll either love the film or hate the film, but it’s difficult not to crack a guilty smile here and there at the sheer absurdity and hideous lack of morality displayed by pretty much everyone in the film. Necrophilia, grave-robbing, desecration of a corpse via staple-gun, if it weren’t so damn sunny and nonchalant this would be a dark, dark piece of cinema. We’d all be shifting uncomfortably in our seats, unable to stay on board with these horribly selfish characters. But if you can allow yourself the indulgence Weekend at Bernieswill evoke that feeling of desperately trying to enjoy the perfect summer weekend when you know it’s fleeting, even if you have to cart a corpse around with you to do it.
Sun, sand, women in bikinis, speedboats, creepy kids armed with a bucket and spade and of course a dead guy with his shoelaces tied to your shoelaces as you cruise the beach… that’s the recipe for a great summer movie!

P.S. Best Halloween Costume EVER - 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bridesmaids Premiere

** Disclaimer: I swear I have been in no way swayed by the kind attentions of the fabulously funny Ms. Kristen Wiig...

Written by: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo

Directed by Paul Feig

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Chris O'Dowd, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Hamm

Rating: 8/10

"Better than The Hangover!" That's what the poster says...since when is The Hangover the bar by which great comedy should be judged? Well, whatever the case may be, that poster boast is definitely correct. Bridesmaids, in the guise of a gross-out comedy is beyond anything The Hangover could ever dream of...

Last night saw the director and cast of Bridesmaids walk the pink carpet at the Savoy Cinema, Dublin for the Irish premiere. Director Paul Feig (who I was tickled to recognise as Sabrina's biology teacher from Sabrina the Teenage Witch) along with stars Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live, Whip It, Knocked Up), Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls, Mike and Molly) and Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd) were all on hand to answer questions and meet their fans (and in Chris's case, a swarm of cousins) and they appeared before the screening to introduce the film.

The hype from the States was huge but in my eyes the film more than lived up to it. Don't get me wrong, Bridesmaids is crass, silly, fun and follows the classic rom-com template. There's nothing new here. It's just that it gets every convention and nails it perfectly. It takes every low-brow joke and gives it class. It takes potentially cliched characters and make you seriously feel for them. A combination of top-notch performances and first-class direction from Paul Feig ensured every comic beat is hit, and the best is made of every joke.

The story follows Annie (Kristen Wiig), a woman on the verge of forty, whose business collapsed and boyfriend scuppered, taking with him her sense of self and every ounce of her energy and ambition. Her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she's getting married and she wants Annie to be her maid of honour but Lillian's new, prettier, richer, sweeter best friend Helen (Rose Byrne) is trying every underhanded trick in the book to upstage Annie. At the core of the film is Annie's journey from decadent passivity to realisation that she has hit rock bottom to a slow, realistic effort to find her spark again. The journey is truly a touching one and it helps tremendously that Kristen Wiig puts in a powerhouse performance. Her quick, razor-sharp wit and vulnerability allows us to forgive the unfortunate behaviour she exhibits at her lowest point.

Having said that, this is by no means a depressing film and unlike Annie, it doesn't allow itself to wallow for a second. Not a minute goes by without a superb gag and the supporting cast are such great performers that they make even the most gutter-worthy gags hilarious...and believe me, there's some gags in this movie that would make the Farrelly Brothers blush. The chemistry between the cast is electric and the developing relationships between the women are believable, but most importantly the developing romance between Annie and Officer Nathan Rhodes (O'Dowd) is really sweet and felt completely natural. Chris O'Dowd more than holds his own here as the good-natured, lovable policeman who falls for Annie. And as much as we all love Jon Hamm (who, again, proves his comic capabilities are second to none), we can't wait until he's out of the picture and Annie can pick up the pieces of her waning self-esteem with the warm, encouraging Nathan. He must also be applauded for not falling into any of the usual Oirish cliches but managing to represent Irish men in a wonderful light. Full of humour, smiling eyes and sly charm, he is a far cry from the characters he usually plays and pulls it off remarkably.

Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy are all outstanding in their roles, each making the most of their meaty roles, superbly written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. This screenplay is deserving of all kinds of awards but I predict that, like Judd Apatow's horribly overlooked Funny People it will probably be deemed too much fun to earn awards.

I can only presume that Bridesmaids will be as successful here as in the States. The magical combination of girly and gross-out should satisfy everyone and the balance of low-brow and high-brow should even keep the grumpy critics happy!

 - Charlene Lydon


Sunday, June 05, 2011

X Men: First Class

Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult

Rating: 6/10

The X-Men as a concept is cinematic gold. Not only are they colourful, plentiful and beautiful (in a freaky mutant kinda way) but the central theme is one of acceptance, both by society and by one's self. There is always much to connect with in these characters as they live through the same struggles as many people do in their daily lives (in a freaky mutant kinda way). The first three movies were hugely successful (though the third one was panned by critics) and I think a huge amount of their success can be attributed to the Capraesque qualities of the stories; the little guy's struggle to belong and to overcome the authorities in order to gain acceptance. The political struggle which made up so much of these films is complex and universal. It is here where the first three succeed and I think it is here where the prequel First Class fails.

X-Men: First Class tells the origin story of Professor X and Magneto, played in the original films by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan respectively and played in this film by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. As they fight against the evil Sebastian Shaw who is trying to prompt the Cuban Missile Crisis in a preposterous plot device that instantly lost me before any of the other nonsense even started to bug me, Charles and Eric (who will later become Professor X and Magneto) set about finding other mutants and banding together to form a super team to help the CIA track down and stop Shaw, former Nazi collaborator and murderer of Magneto's mother. However, Shaw already has his own mutants fighting his corner in the form of Emma Frost, a telepath who can also turn to diamond and distract warm-blooded men with her killer bod and the fact that she wears her underwear as outerwear, and Azazel a red-skinned fellow who can create and control mini tornados. 

The good mutant-bad mutant dynamic is tons of fun. The mutant powers, the celebration of their skills, and the chemistry between the cast all makes for an enjoyable blockbuster. Not to mention the ingenious setting of the film in the 1960s which creates all kinds of aesthetic delights. Director Matthew Vaughn takes full advantage of this conceit and the visuals are stunning, and the first hour feels like an unfortunately non-existent episode of Mad Men where Betty Draper moonlights as a night-club vixen! The characters are colourful, the young cast are exciting and everything is going swimmingly until...that's right, the messy third act. 

The third act sees all the fun drain from the film and not only that but it becomes a very cheesy bromance between Charles and Eric as X tries to convince Eric to curb his vengeance-seeking and find inner peace so that he may use his powers for good and not cross to the dark side. Of course, since we know how it all ends up, the rather done-to-death pep talks not only make us think Prof X is a bit of a know it all, but also bores us to tears and ruins all the fun we were having in the first half.

Another major problem with the film is the banging home of a lot of the issues that have already been very aptly covered in the first films. The mutants struggle with how they see themselves, and with fears of how the world will react to them once they come out of hiding. This kind of "Dawson'-Creekery" detracts from the sweetness of the developing relationships and feels, to me at least, like a cheap way of injecting some depth to proceedings. Depth is unnecessary when you're having so much fun, just look at the first Spiderman movie, simple but perfect! 

I do have to point out that the cast was definitely a highlight for me. Rising stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult and Zoe Kravitz are full of energy and charisma that it makes me actually feel excited for the future of Hollywood cinema. More established stars like McAvoy, Rose Byrne and a wonderfully villainous Kevin Bacon also work really well in their roles. Universal praise has been lavished upon Michael Fassbender but his ever evolving series of accents (seriously, he was a full-blown Kerryman by the end!) were extremely distracting and it also has to be said that it's difficult to go wrong with a character that intricate.  

One of cinema's greatest tragedies is a film that starts off well and has the makings of a classic but for some reason, usually bad writing, veers wildly off course in the second half. That was what upset me about this film. The writers got so caught up in the overly complicated plot that they forgot about the fun and for all their effort, still came out with a messy endgame. That being said, it is by no means a terrible addition to the Marvel Studios oeuvre, it was just like a date that wouldn't put me all excited but sent me home with slumped shoulders!

 -  Charlene Lydon

Top Ten MTV Movie Awards Best Kisses!

Compiled by yours truly for the brand new entertainment website

Check it out...but if you're easily offended, don't click on the video for the Bound's a whopper!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Javier Bardem Confirmed to Play Roland Deschain!

“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed”…

With these words began the epic journey of Stephen King’s magnum opus, ‘The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower by Stephen King
It has been a long and winding road since the first of seven books was published in 1982. The Gunslinger, written as a stand-alone or possibly to be continued to a bigger story was a relatively simple western yarn, albeit with an otherworldly twist. The book was inspired by a poem by Robert Browning, The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. The ‘slinger himself Roland Deschain was a hero modelled on Clint Eastwood and had many characteristics of Tolkien’s Aragorn character. The Gunslinger is one of King’s classics and although often forgotten, given that it’s outside of his usual generic realm, the book is considered one of his greatest works. The scope and beauty of the novel. The unique landscape, the moral ambuguity, the shocking conclusion and the mythical chase between the gunslinger and the man in black are all reasons why this book stands as one of Kings most legendary contributions to the world of literature.

In 1987, King followed up The Gunslinger with it’s rather more sci-fi tinged sequel The Drawing of the Three. The series progressed from here, expanding it’s world from our dimension, to many other ones, spiritual and otherwise. It entered the world of the post-modern when characters from other King novels became characters in the series and, in Song of Susannah (2004), the sixth book in the series, Roland and his friends travel to Maine to meet and save the life of Stephen King himself. The story finally found its resolution with the publication of the aptly-titled The Dark Tower in 2004, though the stories have lived on in the form of some fantastic graphic novels and comics and King has recently announced a new book set for publication in 2012.
The world created by King in his Dark Tower series is incredibly ambitious, post-modern, maddeningly unapologetic and always unpredictable. Because of the story’s non-linear format, it’s massive scope, unusual use of language and its less than crowd-pleasing ending (no spoilers here, you’ll have to read for yourselves) the inevitable film adaptation has frightened off many a filmmaker. In November 2010, Ron Howard announced that he, along with producer Brian Grazer and writer Akiva Goldsman were manning up to tackle the project. But they warned that this will not be just any project. It will consist of at least three epic films, accompanied by television mini-series in between. This sparked debate amongst us members of the ka-tet as to whether this team was the right team or not. Of course the first and best way for them to prove themselves is in the casting. Popular suggestions were Viggo Mortensen, best known for playing the character of Aragorn in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer on ‘Lost’, Hugh Jackman and Guy Pearce. More recently Christian Bale was rumoured but this wasn’t a particularly popular choice with fans.

It has been confirmed that Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem has been officially cast to play Roland. It makes sense in many ways. He is ruggedly masculine and tough as nails as displayed in his Oscar-winning turn in No Country For Old Men but has a deeply intelligent kindness in his manner (see his Oscar nominated role in The Sea Inside). Roland must embody the kind of old-fashioned masculinity rarely found in cinema these days but he must also be able to show a deeply spiritual, romantic and passionate side that seeps out slowly (very slowly!) over time. The Roland we think we know from the first book evolves as the series progresses, completing the classic heroic character arc over time.
So can Javier Bardem fill the boots of Roland Deschain? Would you have preferred one of the other actors? Or would you have waited until we eventually found the right portal in Mid-World that could transport us to a dimension where Clint Eastwood was still young enough to play him? Or should ‘The Dark Tower’ series be left alone altogether? 
  - Charlene Lydon