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Non-Review Review: The House With a Clock in Its Walls

There is something quite charmingly old-fashioned about The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which often feels like a nostalgic paean to the kind of children’s films that they simple do not make any longer.

Director Eli Roth might feel like a strange fit for the film, given his filmography to this point is effectively a whistle-stop tour of twenty-first century exploitation cinema; the director made his name with the Hostel films, but has also worked on movies like Cabin Fever, Knock Knock and the recent Death Wish remake. It seems strange that Eli Roth would be tapped to direct a family-friendly adaptation of a forty-five year old novel.

Stars in their eyes.

Then again, there is a long history of niche and exploitation filmmakers serving as unlikely storytellers of child-friendly narratives. Robert Rodriguez is perhaps best known for his work on Desperado or From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, but he is also responsible for the Spy Kids franchise. Older film fans will recognise George Miller for his work on the Mad Max franchise, while younger audience members will forever associate him with Happy Feet. There is a clear precedent here.

More than that, there’s perhaps a logic at play in these sorts of transitions. At its best, and perhaps given the most charitable reading, Roth’s filmography suggests the demented glee of a teenager bringing his feverish imaginings to life. There is a clear sense of nostalgia and yearning in Roth’s work, even beyond straight-up remakes like The Green Inferno. Indeed, that nostalgia seems perfectly suited to The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which is just a shade darker and weirder than a lot of modern children’s films, but in keeping with the tone of the film’s of Roth’s childhood.

Clocking in.

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Non-Review Review: Truth

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Truth is a truly repugnant piece of work.

It is quite plain to see what Truth aspires towards. It wants to be a prestige picture about the erosion of journalistic freedom in twenty-first century America; it positions itself alongside films like Spotlight and All the President’s Men (and even television series like the fifth season of The Wire) in contending that a free press is an essential organ of a functioning democracy. It is entirely correct in this respect. Truth is bookended by reminders of how the press exposed scandals like Abu Ghraib and held those in authority to account.

truth

However, Truth is spectacularly ill-judged. The film clearly wants to tell a story about journalists who find themselves under intense scrutiny for reporting something that those in power would not want exposed. There are very candid stories to be told about the failure of the American press in this role during the early years of the twenty-first century; the role of the media in the march towards the Iraq war, the death of newspaper journalism and the rise of messier (and uglier) system in its place.

Unfortunately, Truth chooses the worst possible story upon which to make this stand. What clearly aspires to be a drama about journalistic integrity becomes a tone-deaf testament to journalistic incompetence. Then again, perhaps Truth picked its subject matter perfectly.

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Non-Review Review: Cinderella (2015)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is probably the safest and most down-the-middle live action remake of a classic Disney cartoon. It is not as heavily stylised or esoteric as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but it is also not as deeply flawed as Maleficent. If anything, Cinderella suffers from a lack of its own identity or energy. It is a well-made and functional film that avoids any truly significant problems, but it also lacks any real edge that might help it stand out.

Cinderella looks lovely. Dante Ferretti’s production design and Sandy Powell’s costume designs are breathtakingly beautiful. Branagh’s direction is clean and crispy, avoiding excessive clutter and trusting the story to tell itself. The cast are great – with Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter doing wonderful work. Even the script does exactly what it needs to do, walking the line between traditional and self-aware with considerable grace. Cinderella does pretty much everything that you would expect a live action adaptation to do.

cinderella2

At the same time, it lacks any real sense of cinematic ambition. It is nowhere near as iconoclastic as Alice in Wonderland or as ambitious as Maleficent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Alice in Wonderland attracted a lot of criticism for playing more as a Tim Burton movie than an Alice in Wonderland film, while Maleficent tripped over itself in its attempts to re-write the classing story of Sleeping Beauty as a feminist parable. Cinderella‘s problems are much less severe, but its accomplishments are also less noteworthy.

The result is probably the most solid and reliable live adaptation of a classic Disney cartoon, albeit one that never seems to have any real ambition or verve.

cinderella

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My 12 for ’13: Blue Jasmine & The Power of a Lead Performance

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 12…

There are a lot of reasons to like Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen adapting Tennessee Williams for the Great Recession was always going to be worth a look. The film’s elegant jazz-style narrative style, one that’s free-form but still hits the key notes. The brilliant supporting cast that even hints at a possible rehabilitation for Andrew Dice Clay.

However, there’s one reason above all others to love Blue Jasmine: Cate Blanchett.

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Non-Review Review: Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s irreverent modernised take on A Streetcar Name Desire. Sure, some of the finer details have been changed to protect the not-quite-innocent. The story is relocated from New Orleans to San Diego. (“This is such a European city,” our lead notes, as if to suggest it isn’t such a significant change.) The character of Stanley Kowalski has been divided across several different supporting characters – the Polish Augie and the car mechanic Chili. (“He’s just another version of Augie,” Jasmine suggests of her sister’s later boyfriend, drawing attention to the fact that they are both other versions of another character.)

Allen plays of the structure and the beats of Tennessee Williams’ hugely iconic play, even playfully branding his Blanche Dubois stand-in as the movie’s “blue” Jasmine French. The result is enjoyable and intriguing, anchored on a fantastic central performance from Cate Blanchett as the Southern belle who might not be quite the victim that she claims to be. As with so many Allen films, there’s a rich ensemble at work here, but Blue Jasmine works beautifully by riffing cleverly on a classic of American theatre.

"... the kindness of strangers..."

“… the kindness of strangers…”

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Non-Review Review: Hanna

A special thanks to the guys over at movies.ie for sneaking us into an advanced preview screening.

If ever there was an odd choice for an early summer release, I think Hanna is it. Directed by Joe Wright (the guy who brought you Atonement) and starring an Oscar bait cast including Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett (with solid support from Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams), Hanna is the story of a teenage assassin set loose upon the world after a life spent in the wilderness. If that cocktail doesn’t sound crazy enough, Wright sets the movie as a fairy tale.

What’s genuinely astounding is how frequently these elements compliment each other, even if there are a few moments where they seem at odds.

Joe Wright takes a shot at directing an action film...

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Non-Review Review: Robin Hood

The second of the blockbusters arrives, celebrating the true arrival of summer. Chosen to open Cannes and featuring a return of the powerhouse pairing of maestro Ridley Scott and love-‘im-or-hate-‘im matinee icon Russell Crowe in a historic setting brimming with action potential and historic appeal, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of pressure on the iconic outlaw, Robin Hood. So does he carry it off as confidently as he carries off that bow-and-arrow?

Boy in da Hood...

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