Tuesday 20 February 2018

Film review: Ma Ma - the cake of pathos is well and truly over-iced

Cert: Club. Now showing at IFI

Tear jerker: Penelope Cruz plays a cancer patient in Ma.
Tear jerker: Penelope Cruz plays a cancer patient in Ma.

For Penelope Cruz to produce and act in a breast cancer drama in which she both shaves her head and goes topless is admirable and commendable for the spotlight it puts on an illness that roughly one in ten Irish women will encounter in their lives.

She and director Julio Medem (a world away from his steamy 2001 breakthrough drama Lucia y el Sexo) are clearly out to tug heartstrings and up sales of Kleenex by way of a sombre diorama of sorry luck, gutsy determination, handsome doctors and grand gestures of love. The pair succeed in this brief, with Cruz herself the only shard of warmth amid Medem's Arctic colour palette. This is not a fun night at the movies with the glamorous Iberian superstar.

She plays Magda, a teacher who has been hit by Spain's unemployment crisis. Her so-and-so of a husband is off week-ending with one of his students while her son aspires to professional footballing. She is diagnosed with cancer and duly put on a course of chemo and booked in for a mastectomy.

Into her path comes Arturo (Luis Tosar), whose wife and daughter die in a car crash as the pair watch a junior league football tie. Inevitably, they come together and provide each other with emotional buttressing. We have to be taken to the brink though, so an unexpected pregnancy injects Magda's cancer battle with new levels of forlorn urgency.

Medem starts depositing lumps of tacky CGI into the fold to symbolise beating hearts and embryos within, or ghosts of Magda's imagination. This sits awkwardly with the idea that Magda is one of any of our loved ones who could undergo such a diagnosis, as do her perky monologues, littered as they are with honeyed philosophies and platitudes. The cake of pathos is well and truly over-iced. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Independence Day: Resurgence

Cert: 12A. Now showing

Psychologists could have a field day with Stuttgart director Roland Emmerich and the delight he seems to take in blowing up this nice little planet of ours. Since trampling on to the blockbuster landscape in 1996 with alien-invasion behemoth Independence Day (which this silliness sequels), he’s chucked giant lizards (Godzilla, 1998) and climate catastrophe (The Day After Tomorrow, 2004) at us. In all, lavish CGI set pieces spell out in no uncertain terms how the flattening of Earth would look.

Independence Day: Resurgence sees the tentacled space invaders return for another pop at us 20 years after making the mistake of taking on the US president. In the spirit of many sci-fi sequels, the key phrases are “bigger”, “louder” and “more of ‘em”. Not content with the city-sized ships of the original, Emmerich’s jaunt down cash-strewn memory lane sees the nasties touch down in something roughly the size of a continent. Earth — at peace since the last invasion put political differences to the side — harnessed weapons technology salvaged from the last bout, but it can’t prevent this onslaught. To make matters worse, a look-out post on the moon shoots down a craft that, it turns out, was “nice aliens” coming to help us. Right.

Fear not, as to the rescue are Jeff Goldblum (back as David Levinson), Bill Pullman (back as ex-President Whitmore), Maika Monroe (an air-force hotshot turned presidential aide) and Liam Hemsworth (rugged, loose cannon. etc). Also cast is Chinese star Angela Wing Yeung because films can stand or fall on that territory. Half-witted plots, video-gamey action and vast ruination abound. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

The Meddler

Cert: 12A. Now showing


Don’t let the terrible name and crappy rom-com poster put you off.  Lorene Scafaria’s semi-autobiographical tale of a mother and daughter renegotiating the politics of their life after loss succeeds where so many films pitched at the female market fail. It is funny, sweet, emotionally solid and showcases a superb performance by the always engaging Susan Sarandon.

Two years after the death of her husband Joey, Marnie Minervini (Sarandon, right) has moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, screenwriter Lori (Rose Byrne). Marnie has made it her mission to look on the bright side, telling herself repeatedly that she feels great and everything is fantastic in her new life. Lori loves her mother, but is clearly struggling with the excess maternal attention as well as a bitter break up, and both women are coping, or not, with the fallout of their bereavement.

Marnie simply refuses to deal with her feelings and runs a mile from practicalities like headstones and any whiff of male interest , even the lovely Zipper (JK Simmons.)

Instead Marnie, who has been left very well off, fills her days with worthy and entirely OTT causes like paying for and organising the wedding of two women she barely knows, and driving the Apple (who get lots of plugs in the film) store assistant to college three nights a week.

Overbearing but well-intentioned, Marnie is a great role, written by  Scafaria as a love letter to her mother, with Sarandon delivering a pitch- perfect interpretation.

Interestingly, Scafaria makes her own role, Lori, harder to like because she is self-absorbed and self-pitying. The film isn’t perfect and there are a few clichés but tonally it feels very true, and there are laughs and sniffs that make it an enjoyable night out. 3 Stars

Aine O’Connor


Cert 15A. Now showing at IFI

Like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, Omer Fast’s debut will be hard to ignore. Remainder takes the noir murk of Memento and Fight Club and adds some Kaufman-esque reality-warping. It’s like seeing a Rubik’s cube almost getting solved before being muddled afresh.

Tom Sturridge’s nameless protagonist is hit by something falling from the London sky. He awakens from a coma and is compensated to the tune of £8.5million. Psychologically and physically impaired, this vacant-eyed, pill-popping man tries to re-stage glimmers of memory. He hires a fixer (Arsher Ali, stately) to make arrangements, such as buying an apartment block and filling it with actors who respond to direction. It’s not enough, however, and the re-enactments, vital to decrypting visions of a small boy, become more extreme.

Fast’s screenplay (based on the Tom McCarthy novel) becomes increasingly Teflon-coated. Time frames loop and bend as memory and déjà vu tangle. Sturridge is a dark, obsessive anti-hero in the classic noir mould, while Fast’s years as a video artist create a visual and sonic tapestry that arrests the senses. 4 Stars Hilary A White


Cert 18; now showing 

Suburra was, apparently, a rowdy suburb of Ancient Rome and the title of Stefano Sollima’s full-on film, based on the novel of the same name, is a suggestion that nothing has changed. Set in the modern Roman suburb of Ostia, it takes place over a few days in November 2011, just as Italy was about to hit an economic wall. It’s high-energy, violent, seedy, stuffed full of great characters, sharply shot and directed and I loved it.

It opens straight off with several different strands and a countdown to the “apocalypse”.  There’s Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino), a dodgy politician, Seba (Elio Germano) a dodgy PR guy, Sabrina (Giulia Elettra Gorietti) a high-end prostitute, Numero 8 (Alessandro Borghi) is a thug with daddy issues and ambition who is working on someone’s behalf and his heroin addict girlfriend Viola (Greta Scarano). There’s the Mafia in the face of Samurai (Claudio Amedola), the Vatican in the face of Cardinal Berchet (Jean-Hughes Anglade) and a Gypsy crime boss, Anacleti (Adamo Dionisi) hell-bent on revenge. In short, there is everything a melodrama thriller needs, and Sollima delivers them in a slick package that feels like a cross between The Departed and The Great Beauty. All to a killer, if occasionally recycled, M83 soundtrack.

As the film progresses all of the threads come together, creeping towards a collision that can only be explosive. Not all of the ends are tied off however — that will no doubt happen in the TV series of the film, the first Italian original series commissioned by Netflix. Although over two hours long, it doesn’t feel it, and if you’re a thriller fan don’t let the subtitles put you off this Roman gem. 4 Stars

Aine O’Connor

Sunday Independent

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