Monday 20 November 2017

Film review: Truth just doesn't feel universal enough

Truth Cert: 15A

Newsflash: Cate Blanchett as CBS '60 Minutes' producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford as anchor Dan Rather in 'Truth'.
Newsflash: Cate Blanchett as CBS '60 Minutes' producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford as anchor Dan Rather in 'Truth'.

Aine O'Connor and Hilary A White

Reviewed this week are Truth, Hitchcock/Truffaut, The Other Side of the Door, Hail, Caesar! and Goodnight Mommy.

I think it might be when they start doing perfume ads. There's something about those I'm-a-bit-iconic-you-know voice-over TV ads that alters an actor, or how we perceive them. So I confess to mild Cate Blanchett-fatigue - but she is still a great actor and really good here in a role that demands she be both tough and vulnerable, something she delivers on entirely in this worthy, well-intentioned but slightly self-righteous story about American news.

Mary Mapes (Blanchett), on whose book the film is based, was producer on CBS news flagship 60 Minutes with anchor superstar Dan Rather (Robert Redford). Towards the end of George Bush Jr's first term in office they worked on a story about how Bush, like other sons of privilege, used connections to escape serving in Vietnam. The team of journalists (played by Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss and Topher Grace) worked tirelessly to make the story stand up to scutiny with the full support of their bosses. Support that wavered after airing, when trouble began.

It's interesting, and terrifying, about the regurgitation of news and how the facts of the story were buried beneath tangential poison. Especially if you're female.

The whole cast is good - well, Redford is Redford - and James Vanderbilt's direction is solid, but the script mediocre. However, the biggest issue with Truth for an Irish audience is that while it is a great story it is very American, and although it deals with censorship, it doesn't feel universal enough. 3 Stars


Now Showing

Editor's pick: Hitchcock/Truffaut

Cert: Club

Hard to imagine, perhaps, but a point arrived in Alfred Hitchcock’s career where his studio heft, celebrity brand and prolific turnaround saw him fall out of favour with US critics. He was considered too box office to be an auteur of real scope and vision, something that is of course beyond question today.

Tippi Hedren and her feathered co-stars had just wrapped on The Birds when a superfan in France, adamant that the portly English director’s genius be pondered by wider society, contacted him with a view to recording a week-long series of interviews to be later compiled in book format. The book was released under the title

Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock, later shortened to Hitchcock/Truffaut. Its author was none other than French New Wave goliath Francois Truffaut.

Truffaut always dabbled in film criticism, and the compendium slowly became a staple of film students and budding directors everywhere following its publication in 1966. Documentarian and cinephile Kent Jones guides us through the intriguing encounter over an affectionate 80 minutes that doubles as a potted history of Hitchcock and his method.

Truffaut — who ranked the Master of Suspense alongside other fatherly mentors Renoir and Rossellini — manages to contain his gushing as an interpreter relays questions to Hitchcock, who in turn slowly enunciates back between cigar puffs. The recording plays over relevant clips from Hitch’s catalogue (Vertigo is a chief point of focus) and a lofty assortment of contemporary directors (Scorsese, Fincher, Linklater, Wes Anderson, Assayas) sing the praise of both men’s oeuvres. A delight from start to finish.  5 Stars


Now showing at IFI

The Other Side of the Door

Cert: 15A

Following on from The Forest, a decidedly un-scary flap-about through arboreal Japan, The Other Side of the Door seems to be this week’s addition to that sorry subgenre of horror cinema constructed lazily around the White Man’s fear of the Orient.

This time, we’re off to Mumbai, where ex-pat couple Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies, right) and Michael (Six Feet Under’s Jeremy Sisto) and young daughter Lucy are trying to stay upright after the tragic death of their son Oliver. Maria blames herself for not doing more to rescue the boy from the wreckage after the car she was driving careered into a river. Their house nanny (Suchitra Pillai), one of many “mysterious foreigners” skulking around writer-director Johannes Roberts’s film, proposes that Maria exhume Oliver’s body, cremate him on an open fire and bring the ashes to the door of a crumbling temple in deepest darkest India. Once there, she explains, all Maria has to do is spend the night inside the ruin. Hey presto, Oliver’s ghost will speak to her from behind the door and proper goodbyes can be said. What could possibly go wrong. The obligatory rub comes in the condition that the door must under no circumstances be opened during the exchange. Naturally, Maria does exactly this, thereby inviting the now malevolent spirit of the dead child into their lives. Pets die, Lucy turns weird and ashen-faced men pop out from around corners.

If your idea of a ‘good’ horror film is one that fulfils the utilitarian service of making you flinch, The Other Side of the Door probably works. Callies, whose day job in The Walking Dead also sees her face the undead, puts her back into playing a scream queen as illogical and hapless as we’ve come to expect from the genre. Roberts has his cliches and tropes in order, all set against an underlying thematic backdrop of the westerner’s suspicion of Hindu mythology and Indian hygiene.

If, however, you find these things insulting (on various levels) and are growing weary of the same old horror claptrap — evil children, shrill blasts of sound design, shlocky CGI ghouls — then give a very wide berth to this drivel. 2 Stars


Now showing

Hail, Caesar!

Cert: 12A

While Hail, Caesar! won’t be many Coen Brothers aficionados’ favourite, this homage to/parody of old school Hollywood (stars from Gene Kelly to Esther Williams are suggested but never named) is at times almost a homage to/parody of the Coens. Full of faces who have worked with them over the years, the film also has echoes of their work from Barton Fink to

O Brother, Where Art Thou?  There is lots to enjoy, it is clever and funny, star-studded and light-hearted, but it is above all a film-lover’s film.

As explained (with gusto) by narrator Michael Gambon, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) manages Capitol Studios. Even his confessor suggests daily confession is overdoing it, but Eddie, played totally straight by Brolin, is a decent, earnest guy. He is used to dealing with things such as the unplanned pregnancy of aquamovie star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton) sniffing around and film stars going on benders and needing replacement. He is trying to transmute Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) into a dramatic actor under the reluctant eye of super-luvvie director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) when his biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing from the set of Hail, Caesar! A Story of the Christ. The ransom demand for his return is one headache more for Eddie. 

There is a fabulous synchronised-swimming interlude, an amazing song-and-dance number with Channing Tatum, there are a thousand clever lines and some really fantastic scenes. 

The ones with Mannix  and the religious leaders and the “mirthless laugh” with Fiennes and Ehrenreich stand out. The cast is great — some roles are small, others barely there, but everyone delivers. I’d watch it again to catch clever lines. 4 Stars


Now Showing

Song and dance: Channing Tatum in ‘Hail, Caesar!’

Goodnight Mommy

Cert: Club

Two boys playing in the bucolic delights of the Austrian countryside is pretty, but not in itself overly fascinating. The 10-year-olds, Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) amuse themselves, albeit occasionally oddly, while their Mommy (Susanne Wuest) is recuperating from surgery that requires a lot of bed rest and her face to be bandaged. Their boredom is infectious — although beautiful, the film is slow. And then, all of a sudden it becomes one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen for quite some time. Bucolic horror.

There are hints throughout this Austrian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar that all is not as it seems and that there is some kind of disconnect between Mommy and Lukas, the dominant twin. She refuses to speak to him or to cook for him. She intimates that enough is enough and she begins to treat Elias badly. Her marriage has packed up, the house is for sale, things are in flux and, when the bandages are removed from her face, the boys begin to believe that this is not their real mother.

I suspected what the twist might be, but was still utterly unprepared for the film’s shocking final act. Written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, the film is like an arthouse cross between The Orphanage and The Shining. It examines childhood mental illness and the boys are excellent. But I was glad it was over. 3 Stars


Now Showing IFI

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