Hit Sandwich

They’ll talk all the way through it, they’ll ramp up the cinema bill and the sophisticated humour will be lost on them, so leave the kids at home and instead treat your other half to the deliriously brilliant Paddington sequel. My argument below. 

***

Paddington 2
Cert: G

SO OFTEN with cinema for younger viewers, an emphasis is placed on slapstick and mayhem in order to hold the restless eye of youth.

The odd time, however, something comes along that has been lovingly, meticulously crafted to mine the very essence of childishness, your Toy Stories and Finding Nemos and what have you. Do that, and no demographic is immune.

This was precisely what Paddington pulled off in 2014 when it took Michael Bond’s childhood staple and spruced it up for a new era. It did huge box office business through sheer quality alone. Incredibly, this sequel is even better again and marks director Paul King and his co-writer Simon Farnaby (Mindhorn) as a formidable partnership.

Still in leafy London bliss with the Brown family, Paddington spots a mysterious book in an antique shop. He decides this will make an ideal gift for Aunt Lucy and duly bungles his way through odd jobs to save up for it, only to be framed for the item’s robbery. The culprit? Hugh Grant’s superbly narcissistic thespian who wants a treasure map hidden inside the book. Behind bars, Paddington is met with rough inmates and Brendan Gleeson’s grizzled cook. Genius ensues.

The CGI bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw) is almost a side-act next to the cast’s dexterous mugging – Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins (as Mr and Mrs Brown), Grant (a very good sport about sending himself up), Gleeson etc. Bellylaughs come thick and fast but there is enough magic and heart here to grant it Christmas-classic status.

In fact, between its athletic wit and overflowing invention, Paddington 2 is arguably too good for kids. Maybe consider booking a babysitter for this one.

5/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

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Blow Par

It’s breaking records at the moment for opening-weekend business in Ireland. Like everything about the man known for “breaking necks and cashing cheques”, I find this baffling. All this doc is is an alter for his fandom to worship at, and ultimately contributes little to our knowledge or understanding of this divisive global figure. A missed opportunity. 

***

Conor Mcgregor: Notorious
Cert: 15A

THIS nation of ours can be neatly divided not only along party-political lines or brands of tea but also on Conor McGregor.

To his fans, the Dubliner is a sharp-witted Adonis and lofty athlete who rose from working-class origins to global fame through determination and discipline.

To his detractors, meanwhile, he is little more than a boorish, homophobic thug whose only obsession other than himself is lining his pockets in a brutally violent exhibition unworthy of being called a sport.

Gavin Fitzgerald’s slick film is unconcerned with giving McGregor and MMA a rigorous examination. Completed in intimate proximity to the UFC star (who also produces), this is a hagiographic, access-all-areas portrait designed to trumpet the man-myth and secure a Christmas bonanza of DVD sales by his devotees. If you’re looking for new insight, look elsewhere.

They will relish seeing their hero lounging in Las Vegas wealth-porn and filling his marble hallway with cackle after self-congratulatory cackle as the Diaz title bout looms. Boringly, the rags-to-riches-to-rematch narrative is structured precisely as you’d expect.

Strictly for McGregorites.

2/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Review: Call Me By Your Name

A jewel of a film, this. Expect it to loom large in the build-up to awards season. Here’s the Sindo verdict from the weekend. 

***

Call Me By Your Name
Cert: 15A

WE NOW reach that point in the calendar year when Oscar contenders begin to slowly assemble near the starting line ahead of the race for the Dolby Theatre. This utterly sumptuous coming-of-age romance from Italian director Luca Guadagnino looks to have not only the pedigree but also the topical edge the Academy judges seem to helplessly gravitate towards. Consult your bookmaker post-haste.

Guadagnino rounds off his “Desire trilogy” that began with 2009’s I Am Love and 2015’s A Bigger Splash with another tale of flaring passions and true natures being revealed in an idyllic setting.

Timothée Chalamet is 17-year-old Elio, lounging around his family’s northern Italy villa for the summer vacation of 1983. His academic father (Michael Stuhlbarg) welcomes a research assistant from the US in the form of urbane and sophisticated 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer). Oliver fits right in and quickly becomes, on the face of it, a big-brother figure for Elio. But what the heart wants, the heart gets, and gradually, in the aching beauty of the region’s cobbled village laneways and abundant orchards, the pair fall in love.

Based on Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel but toned down for the cinema market, this is excellent filmmaking that should merit multiple nominations come awards season.

Hammer, Chalamet (and Stuhlbarg in the third act) give turns that quiver with sensitivity and illumination. Guadagnino manages to avoid melodrama by allowing quiet symbolism into the vista – ripening fruit, changing musical tunes etc – and effortlessly maintaining an erudite, cultured tone throughout (which, frankly, the world needs more of right now).

5/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Thor blimey

Marvel go for an all-out knee-slapper in Thor: Ragnarok with mixed results. Thus sayeth the Sindo review. 

***

Thor: Ragnarok
Cert: 12A

AND the Marvel juggernaut rolls onwards, devouring whole economies and climaxing each episode with a delectable foreshadowing of the next. Nothing dents the behemoth, not the shoddy comedy writing of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, not the tired quips-and-kablamo formula of the Avengers franchise.

And just when you think the sheen might be coming off, a Doctor Strange or Spiderman: Homecoming comes along to breathe new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with bombast and brains. Hating Marvel is a short-lived hobby.

Granting arch Kiwi director Taika Waititi (Eagle Vs Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) with the keys to a new Thor film is perhaps the very kind of thinking that’s worked all these years. Under him, Thor: Ragnarok reaches levels of silliness and tomfoolery not yet plumbed by a superhero film of this budget.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a buff himbo, cocky in a fight but fragile of ego (which is actually not a million miles off his Norse mythology source). While enslaved as a galactic gladiator, he crosses paths with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) again. It’s perfect timing because all-powerful sister Hela (a goth Cate Blanchett, perhaps the finest marvel of them all) has returned to enslave Asgard. Even gods sometimes need a hand.

Waititi puts the gags up front with mixed results. At times, it feels too needy of laughter and frivolity at the expense of heart (unusually for a Marvel film). Elsewhere, the camp overtones and dotty support cast (Jeff Goldblum, Rachel House, Waititi himself) pull you mercifully away from chest-beating smugness. It is, alas, at its best when beautiful gods and huge monsters are walloping one other to the strident gallop of Immigrant Song.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Abominable

Here’s last week’s Sindo review of The Snowman, a Scandi-noir thriller based on a popular Jo Nesbo novel. Like having brunost shoved up your nose while your eyes are drenched with aquavit (the film, not my review). The picture above is me weeping after the closing credits.

***

The Snowman
Cert: 15A

OSLO looks nice. This murder mystery – based on the Jo Nesbo crime bestseller – has lots of shots of pretty, clean streets decked out in seasonal decorations, efficient public transport and tidy, functional residential developments.

We’re trying very hard here because there are scant other virtues to this abominable busted flush of a film whose most interesting facet is that it should misfire despite its considerable talent pool.

As the director of Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson looked a sure bet. Cinematographer Dion Beebe has a BAFTA nomination on his CV and editor Claire Simpson won an Oscar for Platoon. The cast has something for everyone – Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, Toby Jones, JK Simmons, even Val Kilmer. And surely, with the Millenium trilogy fading the time was right to bring another Scandi-noir to the big screen.

System failures abound, from the glassy, TV-drama visual finish and horrid CGI, to the abrupt, stilted editing that halts any flow to the cluttered tale. The cast look as lost as we are.

Fassbender is tortured detective Harry Hole. A woman has gone missing and a serial killer who builds snowmen at the scene of his crimes may be involved. Harry and partner Katrine (Ferguson) investigate as Simmons’ shifty businessman skulks in the background. As for Kilmer, the less said the better.

You’ll recoil in horror but for all the wrong reasons.

1/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

King of the omniplex auteurs

It’s not ravaging the box office for a variety of reasons but Blade Runner 2049 is still the movie event of the year in my book. Better than that other yoke about the soldiers on the beach. You know the one.

***

Blade Runner 2049
Cert: 15A

THERE was a sigh of relief when it was revealed Denis Villeneuve, the brilliant Quebecois director behind Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival, would helm a new Blade Runner film. If we did have to go back and revisit that holiest of sacred sci-fi cows, this tasteful and visionary omniplex auteur felt like the only man up to the task.

Ridley’s Scott’s 1982 adaptation of Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has aged well thanks to its gritty gumshoe-noir stylings, hypnotic dystopian aesthetic and artificial intelligence themes. Villeneuve had his work cut out to both refresh a sleeping giant but not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We’re 30 years after the events of Scott’s film. K (Ryan Gosling) is a new generation of Blade Runner mopping up the last remaining replicants. He discovers a thread of clues that could spell vast destruction. It will bring him into the sphere of not only Deckard (Harrison Ford), the lost hero of the original, but also a mysterious tech mogul (Jared Leto) and his aide (Sylvia Hoeks). We’ll say no more.

Do your utmost to see this in IMAX because you will not forget the experience. There are many scenes of just a character walking through a set that are rendered astonishing, both visually (by the grandly mesmeric dream-team of Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins) and aurally (a surging score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch). Gosling’s minimal style is ideally suited for K.

With Christopher Nolan’s oomph waning (come on, Dunkirk was overrated), Villeneuve’s hit-rate now makes him the eminent action-thriller-sci-fi director working in Hollywood these days.

5/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Taylor Sheridan does it again in this ice-burnt murder mystery set in a Native American community in Wyoming. The Sunday Indo review forthwith… 

***

Title: Wind River
Cert: 16

THE double hit of Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016) announced Taylor Sheridan as an action-thriller screenwriter of serious calibre. Brimming with atmosphere and novelistic characterisation, both won critical acclaim and courted awards season while reviving a genre that felt all but out of ideas. Wind River completes Sheridan’s enviable hat trick while showing he’s no slouch in the director’s chair either.

The baked border dread and western dusts of the preceding films are replaced by frozen Wyoming wilderness where a barefoot young woman has been found dead in the remote snows of an Indian reservation.

A stoic wildlife ranger (Jeremy Renner, never better) makes the discovery and is soon asked to assist an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who arrives ill-equipped for the sub-zero climate and social norms of the troubled Native American community. He has a lot riding on the success of her investigation, it emerges, and in that measured, Taylor-Sheridan manner, an alliance is formed.

There is much to celebrate here; the flecks of social commentary Wind River raises without fanfare; its western-style incorporation of wild terrain and the different laws that apply there; the heart-stopping, adrenalised climax that it smoulders towards. Sheridan shoots the fruits of his imagination with dynamism and elicits some subtle temperatures from his cast.

5/5

First published in the Sunday Independent