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

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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

Universal appeal

I wish I could have the experience of watching The Farthest for the first time once again. I can’t recall exactly but I think it was about two-thirds of the way in, as the lush, jazzy shuffle of Pink Floyd’s Us and Them was soundtracking a segment of the probe’s flight, that I really began to get that tingle in the spine that this was something very special indeed. America is about to have the pleasure of its company from August 11th (which should be some recompense for the impending threat of nuclear war). They are in for a major treat, as this 5-star Sindo review hints. 

***

Title: The Farthest
Cert: PG

IT WAS in 2013, just as director Emer Reynolds and producer John Murray realised a shared obsession with the Voyager space-probe mission, that NASA announced that Voyager 1 had left our solar system, making it the first man-made object to enter interstellar space.

Reynolds, Murray and co-producer Clare Stronge rounded up cinematographer Kate McCullough, film-score maestro Ray Harman and a host of other leading home-grown talent and got to work on a feature documentary to chart the inception and journey of this extraordinary scientific venture.

Four years after that moment (and 40 in total since Voyager 1 was launched), The Farthest arrives as not only one of the finest film projects ever completed with Irish Film Board funding but one of the big-screen events of the year.

There is too much of sheer fascination to map-out here but some strands are particularly astonishing. One is the primitive nature of the probe’s computer system – equivalent to that inside a hearing aid – that powers it to this day and for years sent back jaw-dropping images that have rewritten our knowledge of space. Another is the “Golden Record” created by celeb boffin Carl Sagan to travel aboard the craft as a musical and visual primer should alien intelligence ever intercept it.

A film that will make you marvel anew at both the stars above as well as the beauty and ambition of science. Book your tickets this instant.

5/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Goldsmith

Great work done here by debutante Mark Gill in this Moz biopic. Here’s the recent Sindo review (complete with less-than-subtle Smiths lyrical pun). 

***

England is Mine
Cert: 15A

STOP me if you think you’ve heard this one before: Sensitive, misunderstood literary type in grimy England defies calls that he’s a no-hoper and rises to rock stardom. England Is Mine, a biopic of The Smiths’ mouth-in-chief Morrissey should be an exercise in by-numbers rock hagiography for the big screen. What makes writer-director Mark Gill’s debut interesting is that it is not.

Jack Lowden (who can also be seen in Dunkirk) is committed as the young Steven Patrick Morrissey, awkward in his shoes, fed-up with Manchester (and everything else besides), and every bit as much of an intellectual snob as he is today.

Wry, tasteful, unforced and with a tangible sense of the era, this is a portrait of a mercurial rock icon’s formative years that, fittingly, ploughs its own furrow.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Shit sandwich

Just… no. 

***

The Emoji Movie
Cert: G

WHEN future cultural historians look back at the annals of early 21st-century cinema history, there will be much cause for reverence. Equally, however, there will be time devoted to a handful of incidents where Hollywood types decided that digital or gaming interfaces would surely have no trouble crossing over into cinemas.

For anyone over the age of 70, emojis are the small smiley faces and characters used in phone text messaging to do the job language once did. They have been deemed so “now” as to justify throwing millions of dollars and a bevy of talent at a film adaptation because that’s what the world needs right now. Behind this thinking is the very same lack of regard for consequence and taste that elects reality TV stars to government or ejects nations from financial markets. It’s been signed-off on – what now?

Here’s what: A cinema release perhaps without equal this year in terms of how shockingly dreadful it is.

A series of crimes are committed, from the conceptual (the drearily dull premise of a “magical” world of product-placed apps within your smartphone) to the executional (a dispiriting lack of effort in the comedy writing, cringefully obvious characterisations).

Then there’s the bleating, babbling inanity of the dialogue and core voicing cast that features TJ Miller, James Corden and Patrick Stewart as, in what you can only hope is an example of wry synecdoche, a talking turd.

1/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

God awful

Sometimes, this job… I tell ya…

***

Title: The Shack
Cert: 12A

WHEN confronted by angry Christian rednecks after a blasphemous stand-up set, the great Bill Hicks famously shrugged: “Then forgive me.”

What a shame Hicks isn’t around to lambaste this cringefully self-righteous spiritual drama whose only achievement may ultimately be to put the noses of some US evangelical types out of joint.

Based on William P Young’s 2008 self-publishing hit, it finds Sam Worthington (a sort of nice-price Hugh Jackman) playing Mack. Mack is in a depressive, god-hating stupor after the murder of his youngest daughter during a camping holiday. A mysterious note beckons him to revisit the woodland shack where her body was found. There, he finds an oven-mitted God (Octavia Spencer) baking, a hipster Jesus (Aviv Alush) doing woodwork and the Holy Ghost of winsome gardening know-how (Japanese star Sumire).

How long will Mack resist the three-way charm offensive and trite platitudes of the cheery Trinity? When will the next plot hole open? Will Worthington’s shaky US accent collapse entirely? Which way is the exit?

Unforgivable.

1/5

First published in the Sunday Independent