The Cripple of Inishmaan Review

The Plot:

The Cripple of Inishmaan is a dark comedy by Martin McDonagh loosely inspired by the real life filming of the documentary Man of Aran. Set in 1934, the inhabitants of Inishmaan a small island community off the western coast of Ireland are excited to learn of a Hollywood film crew’s arrival on a neighbouring Inishmore to make a documentary about island life. ‘Cripple’ Billy Claven, eager to escape the gossip, poverty and boredom of Inishmaan, vies for a part in the film, and to everyone’s surprise, the orphan and outcast gets his chance

The Good:

The play balances its dark subject matter with the kind of jovial Irish wit and farcical self-depreciation familiar to fans of Father Ted or Mrs Browns Boys. The grim realities of island life and the sad situation of ‘Cripple’ Billy are offset effectively by a steady stream of black humour. Flashes of cruelty and tragedy are soon lost among jokes about cows, dirty priests, alcoholic pensioners and folk acting like a big eejit. It’s precisely the kind of gentle silliness required to soften the sharp edges of the play’s bleaker moments.

In the title role, Daniel Radcliffe successfully delivers a performance and flawless Irish accent that should go a long way towards convincing those sceptical that his gifts extended purely to playing bespectacled boy wizards of his genuine acting talents. For perhaps the first time, fans will see Radcliffe truly physically and vocally transformed. There’s absolutely no trace of the wooden awkwardness of the young star’s early Potter appearances.  It’s a nice step in his on-going transformation from cringe-worthy child actor to accomplished performer of stage and screen.

Given Radcliffe’s status as a real life movie star, there’s something especially amusing about having his character’s Hollywood dreams dismissed so bluntly by those around him. It’s a subtle and convenient in-joke with the audience, which takes its place among a host of successful running gags. Though the play flirts with grim melodrama, it’s never too far away from the next laugh, courtesy of a good natured ensemble of daft Irish stereotypes.

The world of Inishmaan is amusingly populated by a familiar array of local gossips, fusspot women, mean girls and idiot boys. Radcliffe may be the marquee name, but the play boasts an excellent cast that brings the rest of the dim witted island community to life. Conor MacNeill and Sarah Greene in particular steal most of the best laughs and much of the show as simple minded Bartley McCormick and his fiery tempered sister Helen. Their bickering and Helen’s violent bullying are one of the play’s most entertaining clichés.

The Bad:

Devoted Harry Potter fans that are simply eager to see the world’s most famous wizard in person may feel a little disappointed by the fact that Radcliffe is an occasional rather than constant presence on stage. Though he performs well, many scenes play out with the ‘star’ of the show either entirely absent or only offering minimal contributions. Radcliffe may have the title role and be the only face on the poster, but in truth he’s merely part of a talented ensemble.

Parents contemplating taking younger Potter fanatics to see their hero should also be warned that the play has dark themes and grim moments that make it obviously unsuitable. It will undoubtedly traumatize your children to see a disabled Harry getting violently physically and verbally abused. It’s perhaps safer to merely take them to the stage door for an autograph instead.

Even bigger kids and grown-ups may find that the play’s frequent jokes only goes so far in distracting from its somber undertones. It’s not always quite so easy to laugh away the gloom of the play’s more depressing moments and tragic revelations.

The Ugly Truth:

The Cripple of Inishmaan has enough star power and silliness to distract from its potentially upsetting themes and more serious moments. Titular star Daniel Radcliffe delivers a competent and unselfish performance alongside a great cast that take turns politely stealing the spotlight. The play ultimately succeeds in performing a quintessentially Irish trick of making audiences consistently laugh when in truth they should probably be crying. It’s a bittersweet treat that should be appreciated by anyone old enough to recognize the fine line between tragedy and farce.

Video Interview below with Daniel Radcliffe from this year’s Olivier Theater Awards talking about life on stage:

Man Of Steel Review

The Plot:

Realising that the planet Krypton is doomed to imminent destruction its foremost scientist sends his new-born son Kal-El to the distant planet of Earth, hoping to safeguard the future of both worlds. With the help of his adoptive earth parents Kal must learn to deal with his extraordinary powers whilst living in hiding from mankind. However, when an evil force from Krypton led by General Zod tracks him down, Kal must finally embrace his destiny as earth’s greatest hero.

The Good:

After the widespread disappointment in Bryan Singer’s 2006 effort Superman Returns, Man Of Steel wisely makes the choice to reboot the franchise entirely and disregard all of Superman’s previous big screen adventures. Rather than seeking to ill-advisedly continue the legacy of Richard Donnor’s iconic movie franchise, Man of Steel instead offers an expanded and modernized re-telling of Superman’s all too familiar origin story.

Superman films have always been credited with pushing the boundaries of special effects and imagination. Famously the tagline for Superman The Movie boasted “You’ll believe a man can fly!”, Man Of Steel surpasses that now humble achievement with ease. The film arguably makes costume clad alien superheroes more visually convincing than ever before.

Opening the film on the dying planet Krypton, complete with dragons, apocalyptic volcanoes and spaceships locked in civil war; is an epic statement of intent. So often ignored as a barely mentioned footnote in Superman’s origin tale, it’s a surprise to see this exotic world explored quite so fully. It adds a new element of intergalactic fantasy to Superman’s subsequent earthbound adventures.

Beyond all its lavish CGI magic, the film has a significantly handsome asset in the shape of new leading man Henry Cavill. The towering British actor is immediately more rugged and rough edged than past men of steel like Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, replacing their perfect mannequin features with some actual stubble and sweat. Squeezed proudly into the traditional skin-tight red and blue suit he actually looks more appropriately god-like and a less like a camp comicbook cliché.

Surly Boardwalk Empire star Michael Shannon also does a fine job of scowling his way through his performance as power mad Kryptonian General Zod. Demonstrating a typically vicious intensity, Shannon avoids the obvious temptation to ham things up too much as a cartoonish cliché. He’s a ruthless soldier with a mission, rather than merely a genocidal lunatic with a god-complex.

The Bad:

Director Zack Snyder is consistently praised for his visual flair but often accused of lacking emotional substance beneath his trademark CGI style. Although Man Of Steel successfully reimagines the look of this timeless superhero franchise, perhaps predictably it isn’t nearly as effective in injecting convincing depth and emotion.

After a promising start, Man Of Steel soon overly complicates itself with persistent flashbacks. Jumping back and forth randomly between Clark Kent as a gloomy drifter and his formative Kansas childhood. It’s a heavy handed and unnecessary attempt to distract audiences from how overly familiar they might be with this classic origin story. However, simply showing things out of sequence can’t disguise how little of Superman’s core mythology has really changed with this fresh ‘imagining’.

Superman has two innate flaws as a character, his physical invincibility and his dispassionate lack of human emotion. He’s entirely invulnerable from harm and rarely if ever displays any emotion other than benign confidence. Both traits make it hard for audiences to emotionally invest in him. Despite an annoyingly persistent use of childhood flashbacks, the film still largely fails to humanize this god like hero.

Although the action sequences in Man of Steel are impressively explosive, at times it feels meaningless and repetitive to watch indestructible characters hurling each other through endless rows of buildings and debris. General Zod and his super powered minions may represent a legitimate threat for Superman, but the action moves at such a blurred and dizzyingly fast pace that it’s hard to absorb or enjoy it fully.

Traditionally the romantic tension with feisty reporter Lois Lane has been the one thing to get beneath Superman’s square jawed stoic heroism. Clark Kent’s fumbling attempts to romance Lois, whilst ironically competing with his own hunky alter-ego as Superman, gave him an endearing relatable charm. Sadly after a lengthy build up to their first on screen encounter, there’s very little chemistry between Amy Adams and Henry Cavill. Without that initial spark, their entire relationship feels more functional than plausibly romantic. It’s a tepid plot device, lacking in passion or intimacy.

In a deliberate efforts to defy expectations, Man Of Steel never really gives Henry Cavill any opportunity to play the familiar ‘Clark Kent’ role. Sadly keeping Cavill costume clad and relentlessly serious robs him of his one valuable avenue for both character development and humour. Ironically the very same qualities the film lacks most.

Though it’s understandable why the film choose not to include Superman’s usual flamboyant nemesis Lex Luthor, the reality is that some wickedly witty villainy would have actually been a very welcome contrast to Superman’s bland benevolence.

Avengers proved it’s entirely possible to balance dramatic apocalyptic action with flashes of self-referential humour and well placed one liners. Man Of Steel by contrast, is even more devotedly sullen than executive producer Christopher Nolan’s previous Dark Knight Batman saga. For what should really be a spectacular example of pure escapist fantasy it’s surprising how oddly joyless Man Of Steel often feels.

The Ugly Truth:

Man Of Steel is a successful big screen re-birth for the most enduring and iconic superhero. It’s consistently spectacular enough to break box office records and secure an inevitable sequel. However, in re-imagining the mythology of Superman the franchise arguably loses as much as it gains. Credible seriousness on a grand scale comes at the price of romance and silly fun. Not all fans will be quite as happy with the choices made to ignore or re-imagine key elements of the franchise.

 

Superman: The Movie Review

The Plot:

Christopher Reeve takes on the role of one of DC Comics’ most beloved superheroes in this 1978 origin story. Just before his home planet, Krypton, is destroyed, Jor El saves his newborn son, Kal El, by sending him away to planet Earth. There Kal El is raised as Clarke Kent and thanks to his superhuman powers, soon becomes the saviour of the world fighting for peace, justice, and the American way.

The Good:

From the very beginning it is clear that director Richard Donner wants to stay true to the comic book origins of the Superman story. After its opening sequence of a comic book narration the film moves swiftly on to give what is surely one of the greatest themes in film history. John Williams’ score played over the opening credits will surely set you up for what is truly a remarkable comic book adaptation.

Christopher Reeve’s portrayal as the Kryptonian superhero is pitch perfect with his ability to switch between the vastly different characteristics of both Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent, offering both a serious role and a bit of comic relief thrown in for good measure as Kent stumbles around the place trying his hardest to look absolutely nothing like the cool, calm and collected Superman.

Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is just as good as the antagonist with his constant vanity and sheer determination on destroying the world in true villain style. Although it’s nothing like the villains we’re so used to in todays super hero movies it sits neatly in between that of the ultra camp 1960s Batman film and the current era of serious toned, more realistic adaptations.

The set pieces and ground breaking visual effects that aid the film, make Superman an easily rewatchable blockbuster which even nearly 35 years later can still entertain.

The Bad:

Not much can bring this film down really, but one of its few low points is perhaps its lenghty running time. At nearly two and a half hours long, the film could have been easily cut down by about twenty minutes or so. It may even have been possible to make a few additions to the story while still resolving things more quickly. That being said, the storyline is just what was needed to set up the franchise. Nothing too heavy, but not too light, perfectly balanced in between.

The Ugly Truth:

With a stellar cast and brilliant set pieces Superman: The Movie is the perfect way to bring such a classic story to hollywood, especially in the time of release. The years that have passed haven’t lessened the film much if at all, and still proves to be an exciting two and a half hours. From the second you hear the beautiful tune of John Williams’ score accompanied with the majestic opening credits sequence you’ll most definitely be hooked.

Black Rock Review

The Plot:

Three young women take a camping trip to the remote island they visited as children to reconnect and set aside their personal issues. However, they soon discover that the island is not quite as deserted as they thought. After encountering a trio of seemingly friendly hunters, the girls soon find themselves locked in a terrifying battle for survival.

The Good:

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton are likeable performers that do their best to inject actual personalities into their characters, especially during the film’s opening set up. The film at least bothers to try and give its heroines some mundane drama and backstory before it plunges them into an implausible nightmare. It’s not much, but it’s more than a lot of truly awful and unwatchable horror films manage.

Male genre fans will no doubt also be pleased that the film conveniently discovers a flimsy excuse halfway through to have its pretty stars strip completely naked. It might be heavy handed fan-service but it’s well timed to peak waning interests.

Although there’s just about enough gore once the trouble really starts to keep hardened horror fans vaguely satisfied, the film doesn’t really linger on its grisly moments,  like so many low budget genre movies do in an effort to be memorable and notorious.  Even squeamish audiences should be able to easily brave their way to the end without too much trouble. Perhaps that’s not necessarily a desirable compliment for a true horror film.

The Bad:

The Horror genre is stereotypically guilty of generic clichés and sadly Black Rock takes a well a worn premise that feels predictably familiar and fails to add as much originality as it clearly hoped to.

Iconic 1970s film Deliverance infamously dealt with the concept of encountering violent gun wielding lunatics in a remote wilderness and his has since inspired endless lazy re-tellings. Black Rock joins the ranks of this sub-genre but does little to distinguish itself beyond making its endangered heroes women. A simple gender swap isn’t really enough on its own to turn a by the numbers tale into anything more sophisticated or intriguing.

The film’s plot is essentially a glorified game of murderous hide and seek, played out on an unfortunately small island located a little too close to civilisation. Finding a more expansive and convincingly remote setting would have made the film’s cat and mouse antics a little more plausible. Although it really doesn’t help that the film’s traumatized heroines seem to insist on casually strolling around the woods and bickering loudly, whilst supposedly hiding from deadly trained killers.

Horror films often ask audiences to suspend disbelief as characters make irrational decisions that sacrifice common sense to serve the plot.  But Black Rock frequently asks far too much. Plot holes and implausible silliness instantly evaporates any real sense of tension. Watching the girls take breaks from being terrified to slap each other and squabble over boyfriend dramas is especially disheartening.

A great horror film also ideally needs a great villain. It takes a convincingly menacing threat to deliver an exhilarating rush of fear. Sadly Black Rock only delivers lazy stereotypes and inadequately bland actors. The film aims to be more tense than grotesque, but it just doesn’t pack enough psychological and emotional punches. It’s difficult to emotional invest when characters face unimaginative and predictable perils.

Though some fans may find the unnecessary nude scenes at least distracting it does suggest either a misplaced confidence or resigned desperation from director/star Katie Aselton. Despite Aselton’s presumably best intentions the film ultimately falls into many of the most obvious genre clichés.

The Ugly Truth:

Black Rock is watchable horror fare that fails to live up to other better versions of its familiar premise. Seasoned horror fans will perhaps be especially disappointed that the film fails to deliver either genuine scares or generous buckets of blood.  It’s never entirely awful, but it could so easily have been so much better.

Summer In February Review

The Plot:

When a beautiful young woman moves into a lively Edwardian artist colony in Cornwall she finds herself caught up in a passionate love triangle between wild artistic genius Alfred Munnings and handsome soldier Captain Gilbert Evans.

The Good:

Based on actual events and real people, Summer In February is a slow burning period drama set against a lush Cornish seaside landscape. The film’s visuals are both sumptuous and seductive, taking full advantage of the dramatic scenery of constantly crashing waves and wind swept cliff tops. It also adds an ominous inevitability of brooding melodrama. Gentle cinematography, ornate costumes and a pretty natural backdrop gives the film a particular breed of rustic glamour.

Australian starlet Emily Browning brings a convincingly fragile English rose beauty and polished plummy accent to the role of Florence. It’s entirely understandable that she has two very different men both vying for possession of her porcelain doll features. She also handles the requisite mood swings from blissful happiness to hysterical despair quite well.

Dominic Cooper has a rare gift, for looking pleased with himself. Playing a caddish womanising artist he consistently beams with that typical smug satisfaction. He’s effectively typecast, flirting as usual with the finest line between charming and obnoxious. Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens, armed with foppish hair and polite clipped tones, is a welcome contrast and likeably banal love rival.

The film’s attractive central trio do their very best to manufacture some genuine chemistry; creating plausible flashes of friendship, love, jealousy and betrayal amongst themselves.

The Bad:

Though much beloved in the UK, the slow paced subtleties of 1920’s period drama aren’t of course universally appealing. Compared to the satisfyingly explicit passions of contemporary romantic drama the polite restraint and languid pace of these proceedings won’t ignite everyone’s interest.

If you typically loath formal melodramatics then you will likely be frustrated by a collection of characters who fabricate complex social problems entirely thanks to an irrationally steadfast refusal to acknowledge or discuss their emotions. It’s difficult to witness attempts at happiness that flounder needlessly as obvious solutions are ignored merely to observe antiquated social niceties.

Whilst the film successfully captures the look of iconic period drama, it ultimately fails to deliver quite enough smouldering undertones of passions or feel-good romantic satisfaction.

The Ugly Truth:

After a bright opening full of brisk walks, poetry and sprinklings of romantic charm; Summer In February gradually turns more sullen and sombre. A well composed production boasting handsome scenery and pretty stars lends the film a little more elegance than its occasionally heavy handed Mills and Boon style plot. It should be perfect for melancholy fans of weepy romantic page turners, but won’t warm colder hearts.