Thursday 17 October 2019

Film of the week: First Man

 Cert: 12A; Now showing

Ryan Gosling and Luke Winters play father and son in 'First Man'
Ryan Gosling and Luke Winters play father and son in 'First Man'

Harrison Ford would never have had such a career if we weren't so keen on the reluctant hero and in First Man, Damien Chazelle pulls off another wonderful success with this tale of the real-life reluctant hero that was Neil Armstrong.

The film covers most of the 1960s, opening with Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) flying a fighter plane to the outermost reaches of the atmosphere and also losing his young daughter to cancer. It is clear that the race for space is political, the Cold War sees both the US and USSR fighting to achieve point-scoring firsts but that is background, not a source of dramatic tension. It has been said that First Man does for space cinema what Saving Private Ryan did for war films, and this is true because it focuses on the reality and detail of the people involved rather than on the bigger picture. However, Josh Singer's screenplay doesn't hit you over the head with feels but instead it lingers.

As the decade progresses and the ultimate goal of the moonwalk approaches it is clear that Armstrong, who Gosling plays with enough flashes of warmth to indicate depths beneath an analytical reserve, is in this for pure reasons. He doesn't want to be a star and is mostly shielded from the doorstepping media that his wife, Janet (Claire Foy) has to face. She is the voice of the feelings he chooses not to express, especially as the number of astronauts killed mounts and the moon mission and its risks come closer. One of the details the film makes clear is that the technology behind the mission was incredibly basic, and your car, your phone probably has more capability than the Apollo did. It's long at 140 minutes, but I really loved it. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Cert: Club; Light House and Palas

When you preface a gory revenge thriller with a Grateful Dead lyric and that ends up being the least bizarre thing, you know that you have an instant cult classic on your hands. That's one of the more mundane things you find yourself considering when the curtain draws on this utterly unique death-metal fairytale from Italian-Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos.

Nicolas Cage (arguably in self-parody mode) plays Red, a burly logger living in the Pacific Northwest in 1983 with partner Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, channelling Karen Carpenter).

When a horrid cult leader (Linus Roache) lays eyes on her one day in the forest, he and his minions call on black-clad demons to kidnap her and bring ruin to the couple's peaceful existence. Red goes on the mother and father of all revenge sprees. There will be blood.

All is bathed in psychotropic hues as Cosmatos and DoP Benjamin Loeb create a woozy, saucer-eyed aesthetic that resembles a manga cartoon made flesh or a shroom trip gone spectacularly wrong. The plot may be the stuff of a teenage comic strip, but it's all presented in such a flagrantly stylised manner that it has your complete and undivided attention from the get-go.

A fab ensemble cast is capped off by Connemara legend Olwen Fouere, while, poignantly, it is the last film to feature the soundtrack work of the late and very great Johann Johannsson. A dark, dotty and delirious Halloween treat. ★★★★★ Hilary A White


Cert: G; Now showing

There's a rather grown-up ideology in this animated story, about knowledge setting you free, but the package in which it comes is a little pedestrian, a slightly poorer Monsters Inc for a new generation.

A community of yetis live high above the clouds, happy in their beliefs that their world was pooped out by the Great Sky Yak, the sun is a snail that will only rise if a gong is struck and that there is no such thing as the Smallfoot, humans. But when Migo (Channing Tatum) meets a Smallfoot and challenges the community's blissful ignorance, he is expelled. But he is not the only yeti to suspect the accepted truths are fake and together they go on a journey to find truth.

It's sweet, funny and musical but it is unlikely to become a classic. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

Bad Times at  the El Royale

Cert: 16; Now showing

It's six years since Drew Goddard's first feature outing The Cabin In The Woods gave us a fresh new take on popular culture horror tropes. This all-star caper set in a remote novelty hotel right on the Nevada-California border shares some genetic material with that debut, presenting us with a range of familiar characters in a familiar setting but throwing a bizarre and unpleasant curve-ball into proceedings.

It's groovy 1969. The prologue playfully shows us that loot has been buried beneath the floorboards of one of the hotel rooms. When a grizzled priest (Jeff Bridges), a smarmy travelling salesman (Jon Hamm), a meek soul singer (Broadway star Cynthia Erivo) and a nasty fugitive (Dakota Johnson) all rock up at the same, it's likely that fact hasn't been forgotten.

The cast are the saving grace of this flamboyant noir carnival that overcooks the cinematography, dialogue, and musical interludes while plot holes and noodly twists present themselves. To put it bluntly, this is 140 minutes of snazzy-looking but forgettable hokum. ★★ Hilary A White


Cert: 12A; Now showing


A mother, a father, and their children float in limbo. In place of a kitchen table, their communal area is the interior of their car, while the contents of their lives are stuffed into black bin liners and carried in and out of hotel rooms in 24-hour cycles.

Rosie (Sarah Greene) spends much time with a mobile phone tucked under her chin as she waits for someone to answer the emergency accommodation helpline. Husband John Paul (Moe Dunford) works in a restaurant kitchen. They're loving, diligent parents and quiet, sensible adults. They're doing everything right yet they have nowhere to live.

Roddy Doyle's great screenwriting achievement with Rosie is to not pen a sanctimonious sermon about the State failing its people, but to instead make starkly clear what this housing crisis means to real lives on the ground in practical terms. Everything is a logistical nightmare, while charades of brittle smiles must be kept up not only for the eyes of teachers and colleagues, but also those you are duty-bound to protect from harm - your children.

Paddy Breathnach's film will go down as a canonical work of Irish social realism, but something even more special is going on here. So much tenderness and beauty wafts up from this heart-breaking situation that you may be rendered immobile once the credits roll. Dunford is superb as ever, but this is career-defining stuff from Greene. ★★★★★ Hilary A White

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