Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wake Wood

Directed by: David Keating 

Written by: David Keating, Brendan McCarthy 

Starring: Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Ruth McCabe, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly.

Rating: 6/10

One of the first films to fly the newly reformed Hammer banner, Wakewood is an Irish horror film quite unlike any you’ve seen before. In a lot of ways, it can be accused of being a magpie, picking little bits from other movies but the big picture can only be described as a true original.

The story sees a young couple, David and Louise devastated by the death of their daughter Alice who, in a horribly disturbing scene, is mauled to death by a dog. They move to the small rural town of Wake Wood, where David gets a job as the local vet to a town full of farmers. Soon after they move to the town they notice strange things happening and unusual behaviour within the community. After accidentally witnessing a ritual involving farm machinery, blood-letting and rebirth, they realise that there’s more to this town than meets the eye. They are told that the ritual can bring someone back from the dead but only for three days and the dead person must be dead less than a year. Despite the fact that Alice is dead a little longer than that they take their chances and go ahead with the ritual. As expected, things don’t go as planned for the reunion with their daughter.

The most memorable thing about this film is its very visceral use of gore. The deaths her are all painful to behold (especially unpleasant is a farmer being crushed by a bull) and the detailed look at the machinations of the ritual is commendable and my favourite part of the film.

The chemistry between David (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle) leaves a lot to be desired and the breakdown between them feels slightly contrived but the film is at its strongest when exploring the supporting characters such as the evil-eyed Peggy O’Shea (Ruth McCabe) and the creepy ringleader Arthur (Timothy Spall). The supporting cast are wonderful and Ella Connolly does a great job with the dual task of charming us and scaring the pants off us.

From the genuinely disturbing imagery to the inner domestic strife, this film is unsettling throughout. David Keating’s direction doesn’t mean to make us jump, it dares us to keep watching. I must say I was distracted by the film’s tendency to indulge in homage to other films a bit too much, particularly Don’t Look Now and Pet Sematary but there is plenty to enjoy in this solid horror film. It is action packed and the special effects are top-notch. If you enjoy a good splatterfest then this will be for you. However, if you like your horror films subtle then perhaps avoid Wake Wood.

 - Charlene Lydon
(from Film Ireland:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Source Code

Written by: Ben Ripley

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright

Rating: 8/10

Duncan Jones made some serious waves in 2009 with his debut film Moon, an instant classic that saw Sam Rockwell living in isolation on a space station on the moon. Needless to say, the pressure on his sophomore output is extreme. For his second film, Jones chose Ben Ripley’s Source Code. It is easy to see why the script caught his attention and I’m pleased to say that his hands were most certainly the right place to put it.

Source Code begins on a train. Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up to find himself in transit, sitting across from a beautiful stranger, Christina, who seems to know him. She calls him Sean, but that’s not his name. She is familiar and behaves as if they are old friends and perhaps something more. Colter panics and is completely confused by what’s going on and as Christina tries to calm him, the train explodes. Colter wakes up in a dark room, bound, with Vera Farmiga’s earnest but friendly face peering at him from a computer screen. She explains that he is connected to a computer programme, Source Code, that will allow him to relive the last eight minutes of another man’s life. This man, Sean, died in a train bomb attack. Colter must use his time on the train to investigate what is going on and try to deduce who the terrorists are so that he can give the information to the military in the hope that they can prevent the rest of the series of threatened attacks.

The less said about what happens next the better. A generic twist on Groundhog Day, the story changes direction many times as it progresses and gives the audience not only a brilliantly plotted mystery but also a clever back story. Both the central bomb storyline and the story of Colter Stevens journey to the Source Code are equally interesting and deftly woven together, keeping the story tight and the action gripping.

The pressure is on for Gyllenhaal to prove he’s up to the dual role of intellectual leading man and action hero. He balances brains and brawn nicely and there’s something touchingly human about his huge eyes staring from his gaunt face that raises this film to a level about most films of its ilk. His performance is affecting on a human level and believable on a physical level. Given that he is on screen for almost the whole film he is commendable here as a character to invest in. There’s something in Gyllenhaals boyish grin that makes him a vulnerable everyman, even when he’s in action mode and this is extremely important in getting the audience to invest emotionally when the time comes. In all the action and mayhem, the quiet, more profound moments are given to us by Michelle Monaghan as an innocent bystander caught up in the plot and tragically destined to die and Vera Farmiga playing a solider caught between her head and her heart. Both give the film warmth against a cold, clinical backdrop of a train and a military facility.  

Source Code is a hugely ambitious thriller that many will accuse of thinking it’s cleverer than it is. I don’t think that's the case at all. The twists in the film aren’t ground-breaking but they aren’t played to shock, they are provided as a means of telling this story in the most entertaining, emotive and intelligent way possible. And for my money, it worked! As mainstream action-thrillers go, this is top notch. Enjoyable on many levels and if you’re not into the self-important undertones that belie the story, just enjoy it for its excitement, its commendable writing and skilled performances.

Great fun!

The Adjustment Bureau

Written & Directed by: George Nolfi

Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Terence Stamp

Rating: 8/10

The Adjustment Bureau is a film that wears it’s heart on its sleeve and its head in The Twilight Zone. The film begins with what looks like a propaganda piece for Davis Norris (Damon), a young, handsome and, most importantly, working-class politician who is running for Congress. He is well-dressed, genuine and cares about the little guy, making him a shoo-in for his constituency. That is, until a newspaper runs some unsavoury photographs of him from his wilder days. His lead drops away and he loses the election.

David is crushed and as he rehearses his concession speech in the men’s toilets in a swanky hotel, he realises he is not alone. There is a beautiful young woman (Blunt) hiding away in a cubicle, on the run from hotel security for crashing a wedding. In a meet-cute straight out of a Capra film, the pair hit it off instantly and she inspires him with her free-spirited nature and her easy manner. When David’s aide tells him it’s time to go, she dashes off into the night leaving David aghast and madly in love. She also left him inspired. He discards his old speech and replaces it with an improvised speech about the falsities that he presents as a politician, the thought and man-power that goes into choosing his tie and his shoes and he promises that he is the real deal and he will no longer buy into such nonsense. His powerful speech resonates with his constituents and his profile is raised making a sure thing for the next election…if he chooses to run.

Despite all the positive attention, David has only one thing on his mind. The woman he met on election night. When he accidentally bumps into her on the bus and the spark between them is as powerful as it was the first time, his prayers have been answered.

Meanwhile, shadowy men in fedoras and trenchcoats are thrown into a panic. How did this happen? This wasn’t part of the plan! They do everything in their power to ensure that this couple are kept apart so David can go back to the path he is supposed to be on and fulfil his destiny.

The rest of the film sees these shadowy characters following David and trying to convince him to never see her again. But, the heart wants what the heart wants and David is more stubborn than the Adjustment Bureau give him credit for.

As the film progresses it becomes clear that there are two worlds going on and both are as intriguing as the other. The first world is that of the Adjustment Bureau, an far-reaching organisation that watches the world and ensures that the important people reach their destiny. Any breaches will be rectified at any cost. However, as we get to know these characters, particularly Harry (a scene-stealing Anthony Mackie) who we suspect has become a little too attached to David and might just be on his side, it becomes clear that there is more to them than meets the eye and the people who first seem like leaders are only following orders from the people above them. John Slattery as the snide, arrogant Richardson (not a huge leap from his Mad Men or Desperate Housewives characters) and Terence Stamp as the malicious and reckless Thompson make wonderful villains as we struggle to understand the nature of their place in the world. Are they angels who are so caught up in the tangles of bureaucracy that their wings are forever tarnished by its machinations? Or are they politicians with an agenda that they will fulfil at any cost to the humans on earth? Either way, their world of GPS destiny-tracking machines and huge libraries and doors that magically open to the other side of the city is visually delightful and also intricate enough to capture the imagination.

The other world that the film gives us is the rather more intimate world between David and Elise, two people falling in love. The trick to The Adjustment Bureau and its strongest aspect is that the love story is not only believable, but it is engaging enough to make us really, really care that they are allowed to end up together. It’s all too rare to see falling in love portrayed onscreen with such a dynamic pairing. Not for one second do we doubt that this couple is supposed to be together and it is a credit to the filmmakers and the actors that such fanciful leaps of faith on the part of the audience are possible. Too many films place the entire premise on the assumption that two people belong together but don't make the audience really believe it (Titanic, I'm looking at you!). 

When these worlds collide it brings together a mix of wonder, terror and science fiction logic that is brilliantly executed and lovingly rendered by the wonderful cast. Matt Damon in particular must be applauded for his role here. He single-handledly shoulders not only the emotional core of the film but elegantly balances it with the action and sci-fi. Of course, I’ve come to expect nothing less from him, after a long career of skilful genre-jumping but here he shines in a film which could have gone terribly wrong if it weren’t for our love of the character and of course the double jeopardy of that niggling feeling that the Adjustment Bureau could be right. This man is going to be important and might change the world in the future and he shouldn't deviate from his path for the sake of a woman.

The final few minutes might get a little too sappy for some but this cannot overshadow the fun, the mayhem and the high-concept artistry on offer in the film. Stylish, thoughtful and deep, this is my favourite sci-fi film since The Box (hey, it’s a great movie, don’t be so hasty!) and I recommend watching it with an open mind but be prepared for a bit of romance thrown in with the action!