Monday 18 December 2017

Cinema review: Pan doesn't offer anything fresh

Pan Cert: PG

Pan starring Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Levi Miller as Peter, is more panto than Hollywood epic.
Pan starring Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Levi Miller as Peter, is more panto than Hollywood epic.
Crimson Peak: Tom Hiddlestone and Jessica Chastain star.
War: Censored Voices tells the story of the Six-Day War through the eyes of Israeli soldiers who took part in it.
On the throne: The Queen of Ireland tells the story of Rory O'Neill

Hilary A White

Reviewed this week are Pan, The Lobster, Crimson Peak, Hotel Transylvania 2, Talking To My Father, Censored Voices and The Queen of Ireland.

The Peter Pan myth got a welcome and highly profitable fillip in 1991 with Spielberg's carnivalesque Hook, a highpoint in the late Robin Williams's career. Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina) returns to the classic tale first penned by JM Barrie with an origins story for the aerial boy who never grew up. While the budget is twice that of Spielberg's offering, the results aren't nearly as sure-footed (as its weak US box office take already suggests).

It may have been avoidable. The tone is right at the start as Wright and writer Jason Fuchs start back in Blitz-era London, where Amanda Seyfried remorsefully leaves a baby outside an orphanage.

Peter (Levi Miller) grows up in the tough environment run by Kathy Burke's dastardly Irish nun, until one night he and his fellow urchins are harvested by pirates and whisked away to Neverland aboard flying galleons.

Enslaved by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, a posher, gothy Jack Sparrow), Peter escapes with the help of Garret Hedlund's James Hook (wink wink), only for both to be taken captive by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and the natives, all of whom will take some convincing that Peter is the chosen one. Meanwhile, a vengeful and paranoid Blackbeard follows up the rear.Swashes are buckled, doubts overcome and clunky nods are made towards Barrie's year zero. But does any of it feel the least bit original? No. Is Pan offering anything fresh or insightful to such a ubiquitous mythology? It isn't. Did we need such a cash-hungry dredging? Never.2 Stars.


Now showing

The Lobster 

Cert 15A

From the outset, it's important to flag one thing. Don't let the fact that this was shot in Kerry and the combination of the words 'Colin Farrell' and 'comedy' make you expect a laugh-along easy-watch film set in Ireland. Colin Farrell plays the lead and it is often funny, but The Lobster is at times  obtuse, on occasion strays closer to horror than to comedy and is too offbeat for broad appeal. But it is original, inspired and Farrell is fabulous, leading an all-round excellent cast.

David (Farrell) is a divorcee in a society that does not tolerate singledom. He is duly despatched to The Hotel, where The Manager (Olivia Colman) explains that he has 45 days in which to partner up, otherwise he will be turned into an animal. David has chosen to be a lobster.

As narrated by Rachel Weisz, there is an assortment of singletons put through their dating paces and they pair off, or not, according to what they find in common, usually a flaw.

David makes an attempt to pair up with resident psychopath (Angeliki Papoulia) but that doesn't end well and he ends up on the run. But life with the Loners, led by Lea Seydoux, is just as regimented.

At the premiere in Dublin, Farrell explained that the deliberately anti-naturalistic delivery served in part to highlight the emotion and themes of the piece. Arguably, it distracts from it but it does also deliver some humour. If you're expecting a piece of brave, original, interesting cinema, you will be rewarded. 4 Stars.


Now Showing

Crimson Peak

Cert: 15A

The divide between the Old World and New might be fading due to internet culture but a century ago it was very pronounced, according to Crimson Peak at least. Special effects make-up artist turned horror guru Guillermo del Toro paints Americans of yore as being all about hard work, integrity, education.

The Brits back then, meanwhile, were more inclined towards inherent privilege, incest and living in draughty, ghost-ridden mansions.  This central dichotomy is veiled thinly by del Toro, who sets two dastardly aristocratic siblings (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) on a spirited ingénue and heiress to a New York fortune (Mia Wasikowska). It's a fun and uniquely stylish romp that cherry picks from genres in ways many directors couldn't get away with. The courtship of Edith (Wasikowska), by both the handsome doctor (Charlie Hunnam) and the mysterious engineer Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), is dressed with strong notes of period romance.

A gruesome murder, intercepted letters and sleuthing into secret pasts harks towards Gothic murder mystery. But when Sir Thomas and Edith wed and relocate with reptilian sister Lucille (Chastain) to a rambling pile in England, Crimson Peak busts out the phantasmic, creaking-door horror moves with aplomb.

Save for a limp ending, this is hearty entertainment for the most part. Hiddleston is as hard to read as ever, a mix of puppyish sincerity and crude-oil menace. Chastain has a rollicking time creeping-out Wasikowska, who in turn cuts a fine heroine.

They have to share the limelight, however, with Allerdale Hall. A huge, quaking nightmare of a building, it ranks alongside del Toro's most memorable macabre creations and is the centrepiece to a finely detailed and impressive production design in general. 4 Stars


Now showing

Hotel Transylvania 2

Cert: PG

Just when you thought it had all been done, Penny Dreadful provided a recent reminder that there is still plenty to be mined from stock Gothic horror characters. Hotel Transylvania (2012) decided that a cast comprising all the spookies in the handbook, from Dracula to the Invisible Man, would still make for a worthwhile comedic exercise for a cast of creations already no stranger to parody.

While the critics largely disagreed, those younger cinema-goers who had never known of vintage TV shows such as The Munsters or Groovie Ghoulies went in their legions, ensuring that a sequel simply couldn't be refused.

The Adam-Sandler/awful movie equation is neutralised somewhat by virtue of the fact that we only have Sandler's voice to contend with.

He returns as Stoker's bloodsucking hotel manager, trying to come to terms with the fact that daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is marrying a puny backpacker mortal called Jonathan (Andy Samberg).

He keeps it together during the big day, as all around him in-laws shriek at each other during a suitably ghoulish ceremony that milks the scenario for all its worth.

When Mavis gives birth to a bouncing ginger boy named Dennis, the Count cannot stop checking for the emergence of a new fang to prove the lad is of quality vampire stock.

Mavis starts to lean more heavily on the idea of raising Dennis in Jonathan's US homeland, believing that lax gun laws are a safer bet than assorted roaming monsters. Dracula freaks out and uses a babysitting stint to take Dennis on a road trip with Frank (Kevin James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Murray the mummy (Parks and Recreation's Keegan-Michael Key) to try to bring out his inner undead.

You probably get the idea. Every avatar bounds about the place in giddy CGI spasms of sub-par slapstick that will only enthral you if you are under the age of 12. It just redeems itself with a great final-act set piece that sees Mel Brooks turn up to lend some Yiddish huskiness to the voice of Grandfather Vlad. 3 Stars


Now showing

Talking To My Father

No Cert

It's a lovely thing to be able to make a homage to a parent and Sé Merry Doyle's latest documentary, Talking To My Father, allows Simon Walker to do just that for his late father, Robin Walker. 

As with his previous films, Doyle makes Dublin a character and in this he picks out some of the city's well-known buildings. Robin Walker studied under famed architects Le Corbusier in Paris and Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, before returning to an Ireland that was just beginning to find some money and an identity in the 1950s.

His distinct concrete blocky modernist style is in some ways out of vogue now, like the Bord Failte building on the canal which is abandoned and for sale, or the arts block in Maynooth.

However, other examples, like the UCD restaurant building and Wesley College in Ballinteer, are testimony still to his vision.

The doc is based on an imaginary conversation between Robin and his son Simon, also an architect. He not only describes his father's history and a little of their family life but he goes round the buildings and explains them in context.

It's a nice idea and interesting to see in terms of history, concept and vision and his devotion to preservation and understanding is lovely to see. It's very personal and interiorist and at 90 minutes a little too long, so appeal will inevitably be limited. 3 stars


Now Showing IFI

Censored Voices

Cert: Club

The dehumanising effects of war are plain to see wherever we look, from history lessons in classrooms to television documentaries about WWII. What is harder to get across is that while man can flinch  and flail all he likes at how horrible we were to one another in those godforsaken times, it still goes on to this very day with more gusto than ever.

Censored Voices is an example of a rich but cool historical document revealing a blueprint for a nation's future demeanour. In what began as a defensive effort when Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies parked on Israel's border and loudly rattled sabres, the Six Day War of 1967 turned into a huge offensive military endeavour that saw Israel maraud and take hold of valuable territories such as the West Bank, Gaza and parts of the Golan Heights.

The shadow of the Shoah lingered on the paranoid young nation, and its newfound military might struck a belligerent note in Israeli consciousness that some feel exists to this day. Like many, filmmaker Mor Loushy grew up believing the Six Day War was a heroic chapter in Israel's story. She then learned of one Atmos Oz, a writer who had recorded tape interviews with soldiers in its immediate aftermath, and how 70 per cent of these had been censored by the Israeli army. Uncovering the lost tapes, she heard young men speak of that sprawling and dirty fray with less a jingoistic glow than a shroud of horrified self-loathing.

Loushy's uncluttered and sober film is a steady-handed re-acquaintance with the participants of Oz's recordings whom she invites to sit in on playbacks during the winter of their lives. This is heard over remarkable archive footage of battlefronts, war-torn expressions and eerie images of deserted towns, stray dogs and abandoned vehicles. With gossamer delicacy, she quietly scours the men's faces as they listen to their younger selves tell of casual murder, regimented thuggery and "people humiliated to the ground". There, she finds contrition, confusion and conflict. 4 Stars


Now showing at the IFI

The Queen of Ireland

Cert: 15A

When history is in motion, you've got to make sure the camera is ready to roll. In the case of Conor Horgan and The Queen of Ireland, it happened the other way around, with subject, narrative and eternity somehow aligning during the process with a spookily predestined smoothness.

What started out in 2010 as an ordinary documentary about Irish drag queen Rory O'Neill and his "giant cartoon woman" alter-ego known as Panti Bliss slowly morphed into a film record of a changing Ireland, a pocket history of the gay community here.

That circle starts and finishes in O'Neill's hometown of Ballinrobe, Co Mayo. We hear about a difficult but loving childhood, an exhale of expression in Dublin's underground gay scene, and stiletto-heeled babysteps and journeyman ventures on overseas stages. The practicalities of living with HIV get a poignant airing.

But Horgan could not have accounted for the noisy fallout from that Brendan O'Connor interview (the "Pantigate" saga is not lingered on in great detail, for obvious reasons). Nor could they have envisaged the swooning reaction to O'Neill's "Noble Call" at the Abbey Theatre. Both made Panti a household name here, an LGBT hero abroad, and forced Ireland to take a long look at itself just as the winds of marriage equality began to blow. May 22 arrived and O'Neill's story had a crescendo that couldn't be more ideal.

Horgan was indeed in the right place at the right time, but his execution - measured, efficient, filled with emotional intelligence - is pivotal in capturing the events. Expect this remarkable film to have legs, and deservedly so. 5 Stars


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