Tag Archives: Chris O’Dowd

London Film Festival 2016: Day 6

ARRIVAL

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You may recall from yesterday’s article when I mentioned that I skipped out on attending the press screening for Trolls based on the fact that the film is due out in cinemas at month’s end and will definitely make it to Hull.  I’ve tried to take into consideration in my film choices those two factors when setting out my schedule – as well as what the film is, who it’s by, if it stars anyone I like, and if it’s a name-film that may drag eyes towards these articles, natch – but I have to cop to some exceptions.  I didn’t know that A Quiet Passion was due out next month before I saw it, and I watched A United Kingdom because it was the Opening Night film and what else was I going to do on that Wednesday?  Bum around Camden Market wasting even more money on vinyl than I already did that day?

But the biggest exception, with it dropping into cinemas a month to the day of this writing, was that of Denis Villenueve’s Arrival (Grade: A).  Arrival will be everywhere in a month’s time, representing as it does Villenueve’s big crossover moment before he risks everything on that Blade Runner sequel, but I could not resist the urge to catch this one early.  You see, Villeneuve is the director of 3 stone-cold instant classics over the last 3 years – 2013’s unsettling drama Prisoners, 2014’s unnerving psychological thriller Enemy, and 2015’s absolutely sensational and vice-like Sicario – as well as a bunch of French-Canadian films I have yet to see, and, with Prisoners and Sicario especially, he has very quickly turned into one of my favourite working directors.  So when the festival line-up shows that his latest feature is on the bill, you’d better believe that I am there all the way for that!  I even bought a ticket to the matinee screening tomorrow until I realised that there was a press screening on and that I had effectively wasted my money, that’s how much I wanted Arrival in my eyeballs!

And you know what?  Even with those lofty expectations, massive hype levels, and my being completely exhausted from having to run at 8:45am on a Monday morning to make sure I made it to the screening on time…  Arrival still left me speechless, which is fitting, really.  Based on Ted Chiang’s acclaimed short story Story of Your Life, the film follows linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the US Army to help decipher the language of a highly-advanced race of aliens who are hovering slightly above the Earth in their spaceships.  There are 12 in all, distributed seemingly at random in each of the world’s strongest powers, and the various militaries are terrified of the fact that they have no idea how to communicate with these beings and, worse, no clue as to why they are here.  The military’s getting antsy, the public are terrified, and the veneer of international co-operation is wearing thin fast, so Banks is brought in, along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to break that language barrier and establish a dialogue before everything goes to hell.

ARRIVAL

On paper, that sounds like a thrill-a-minute blockbuster ride, or maybe even one of those tightly-wound slow-burning thrillers that Villenueve has made his English-language name with, but that’s actually far from the case.  Instead, screenwriter Eric Heisserer and Villenueve have put together a highly-emotional piece of hard sci-fi, where the pacing is measured and the heart is on its sleeve, exploring big themes in heartfelt ways.  In a way, particularly with where the film eventually ends up, Arrival is the film that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar should have been.  It’s a film that questions whether humanity would be able to get its collective sh*t together if we were ever to make contact with interstellar life-forms, or whether we would succumb to the same fear and paranoia that has driven our way of life for centuries.  It demonstrates the worst in humanity along with the best in it, and ultimately comes down hard on the optimistic side of the equation, much like The Martian did last year.

There are brilliant parallels to how we handle people on the other side of the language barrier, how our instincts, codified by years of exposure to our quietly hateful society, can lead us to automatically fear the worst as a result.  How we Other outsiders, distrust them out of hand despite them doing nothing to deserve such treatment.  Then, as the film progresses, we start exploring themes of fate, our relationship to our past and our future, and whether we can accept all of those things despite that fear of a lack of real control.  It’s a story with a lot of different emotions and themes, and Villenueve, along with Heisserer’s excellent script, handles them with aplomb.  This is a film that is constantly capable of providing moments of genuine awe that can inspire tears based on their beauty – Banks and Donnelly’s first contact is an absolute masterclass in filmmaking, in particular, and each breakthrough in the sessions between them and the aliens, whom Donnelly names Abbot & Costello, brings the same feeling of satisfactory relief that one can get from learning a language themselves.

ARRIVAL

Amy Adams is on absolute fire, here.  Much of her best work puts her in the role of an ordinary woman dropped into extraordinary circumstances and utilising that empathetic initial-fish-out-of-water status to draw the viewer in and guide them through the new world before eventually rising to the challenge, and Arrival plays to those strengths with aplomb.  Louise is frequently haunted by memories of a daughter she lost to an illness, and that kind of specific maternal instinct ends up manifesting itself as a key way of helping foster progress in her relationship with the aliens.  Far preferable to the Chinese’s method of communicating via Chess, that turns the art of communication into a game of conflict, where the only states are binary forms of competitive winning or losing.  All the while, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s impeccable score juggles each of the different moods superbly – ominous wailing violins during the imposing first contact eventually evolving into wide-screen emotional symphonies as progress is made and the film shifts into a final third that will make or break everything that came beforehand depending on your tolerance for a little sentimentality to go along with your “smart people being damn good at what they do” sci-fi.

Seriously, I have written all of these words and I still don’t think I have managed to do even a smidgeon of justice to what Villenueve, Heisserer, and everybody involved with Arrival have created here.  During the 45 minutes of downtime between this and the next movie, I had to compose myself multiple times because I was constantly on the verge of bursting into tears yet again at the astounding beauty that I had witnessed.  Arrival is both clinical and emotional, nitty-gritty realist about the methods of its premise and swings-for-the-fences when it comes to themes of loss and fate, and it is always absolutely riveting viewing.  My eyes did not leave the screen once during all of its two hours, and once the credits rolled I knew that I had seen an absolute masterpiece.  Arrival is not just the best film I have seen so far at this festival, and may see all festival; it is one of the absolute best films of the entire year.

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Unfortunately, not only are there more films to come this year, there were more films to come this day, which just felt wrong and not to mention unfair to those poor films.  After all, how on earth are you supposed to follow the showstopper?  Try as I might, I couldn’t stop myself from being somewhat down on Layla M. (Grade: B-) purely because it deigned to follow Arrival, I put my hands up in admission to that.  But even with that margin of leeway, I just never became fully engaged with Layla M. despite it not having anything particularly wrong with it.  The deliberately provocative premise follows the titular Layla (Nora el Koussour), a Dutch teenager who is a straight A student, politically and socially active, and also a fundamentalist Muslim.  She’s in a secret relationship with radicalised Islamist propaganda filmmaker Abdul (Illias Addab), her father heavily disapproves of her hardline fundamentalism and threatens to ship her and her easily-led brother back to Morocco, and she’s at the end of her tether with Netherlands’ Islamophobic policies and much of her family’s lapse in their Islamic faith.

The film, essentially, follows her slow radicalisation, deliberately resisting blaming any one thing for her turn towards radicalism and instead showing it to be the result of many things.  Her absolute faith in the fundamentalist tenants of Islam, the crushing patriarchal control of her home life, the daily discrimination she and other Dutch Muslim women receive for choosing to wear a hijab, a desire to be seen as equal in the eyes of the men in her life, and, yes, her being in love with an older man and being a rebellious teenager.  It shows her throwing her life away in her disillusioned desire to escape her patriarchal prison, only for it to turn out that she’s switched one patriarchal prison for another once the film reaches the Middle East and she struggles to find a purpose in her new life.  Layla M. is interesting, but I still never really connected with it.  Partially, yes, due to Arrival, but I mostly think the film’s just a bit too realist and low-key for my liking.  It also starts to carry a small air of shaming its protagonist as it gets closer to its ending that I found a bit off-putting.  Again, though, it’s not bad, and I feel like I may be kinder towards it if I were to see it again outside of the festival rigmarole.

MASCOTS

Another film that slipped through the “no watching films that are out soon” cracks – both because I like watching comedies on the big screen with a good crowd, and because I wanted to be in the same room as Christopher Guest – was my third and final film for the day, Mascots (Grade: C), which sees Guest returning to the mockumentary format the made famous to tell the story of a group of misfits competing in The 8th Annual World Mascot Championships.  As you can probably already tell, that’s the most outwardly wacky premise that Guest has utilised yet for one of his mockumentaries and, as you can probably already deduce, it’s also his flimsiest and least-inspired mockumentary yet, a rare swing-and-a-miss.  The best Guest mockumentaries are filled with quirky characters, but they also don’t overdo the quirk.  The characters feel like fully-sketched human beings rather than a collection of random traits for the performers to blurt out to score strained laughter, and that way the sentimentality that powers his films rings true.

Mascots overdoses on the quirk, often in the most generic of ways that ends up making the characters feel fake and the sentimentality hokey.  It’s not enough for Owen (Tom Bennett) to be a third generation mascot, he also has to have only one testicle.  It’s not enough for The Fist (Chris O’Dowd) to be a self-styled “bad boy” of the mascot world, he also has to have a father who is the founder of a religious cult based on a 70s television show.  It’s not enough for the mere idea of there being a yearly worldwide mascot competition, there also has to be a swiftly-dropped drug scandal and a loose Furry on the sexual prowl running about the place.  Just so many rehashed ideas from prior, better Christopher Guest films, many disappointingly free of the skewed invention that he normally brings to the table.

The film’s at its funniest in the little specific quirks that don’t strain so hard for laughs – like The Fist’s overly-Irish brogue calling the mascot profession “mascotery,” or hardcore mascot believer Phil Mayhew getting the chance to lend his mascot skills to cheering up a disabled school for blind children, or Owen’s “police Tourette’s” and total inability to move his eyes without turning his whole head.  The final third, when the competition itself gets underway, also delivers some fun visual gags and routines, with one avant-garde dance number bucking the usual trend of jokes in this film getting less funny the longer they run on for by becoming funnier and funnier the longer it drags on.  Plus, it’s honestly a blast to get to see Guest’s usual stable of actors – including Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, Chris O’Dowd, and John Michael Higgins – get to do their thing in a Christopher Guest movie again.  But there’s sadly no getting past the fact that I just didn’t laugh very much watching Mascots, and that’s disappointing given the quality of Guest’s usual output and the decade’s gap between films.  I guess that’s why it’s gone to Netflix, the home of comedies with only occasional funny sequences that you forget as soon as the credits start rolling.

Also, the film can’t seem to decide if it’s going to adhere to its mockumentary conceit or not, and that kind of thing bugs the crap out of me.

Day 7: Two female French soldiers experience the full force of military misogyny in Stopover, and The Dardenne Brothers return to the festival with The Unknown Girl.

Callum Petch can move along here and now.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

GFF14 Diary: Wednesday 26th Feb – The Lunchbox, Zero Charisma, and Calvary

CalvaryI spent Tuesday away from the festival, although I did manage a quick visit to the splendid Grosvenor Cinema with my three-year-old daughter for a special toddlers’ screening of some Peppa Pig cartoons. I am unfamiliar with this popular porcine series, but it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a cinema.

Today was my busiest day at the festival, with three films and a podcast recording session on the agenda. I met up with my good friends Dave Macfarlane (Born Offside) and Paul Fisher (The Write Club) for what has become our annual day of film discussion and moderate alcohol consumption. We arrived at Cineworld early for our first screening, not out of any sense of organisation, but because Dave’s fear of the lift meant a journey up the escalators to the top floor that Edmund Hillary would have balked at.

First up was the Indian romantic comedy/drama The Lunchbox, the debut feature from writer/director Ritesh Batra. The film focuses on a pair of strangers, brought together by an unheard mistake from Mumbai’s dabbawalas, the people responsible for a delivery system that collects hot cooked meals from people’s homes and delivers them to their work for lunch. Ila is an unappreciated wife and mother, and her fantastic food meant for her husband is mistakenly delivered to a curmudgeonly government employee a month away from taking early retirement. soon the two are communicating via handwritten letters packed inside the lunchbox, with both talking about the regrets in their lives, and suddenly finding new dreams and ambitions to live for.

The narrative is a little derivative at times, reminiscent of classics like Brief Encounter and In the Mood for Love, as well as the not quite so classic You’ve Got Mail. What elevates this film however are the excellent central performances which gave me that very rare feeling of physically willing two people on screen to somehow make things work. Plus, it’s always nice to see an Indian film playing on UK screens that isn’t nearly 3 hours long with 15 different dance routines bunged in the middle. This is a lovely film, but make sure you have time to go out for a curry afterwards as I haven’t salivated this much in a cinema since Jadoo.

After a trip to our very generous sponsors Brewdog Bar Glasgow to record a huge chunk of this week’s podcast, we headed back to the GFT for Zero Charisma, a Kickstarter-funded film about role-playing games and the eternal battle between real nerds and those affecting ‘geek chic’. The screening was sold out (meaning Dave had to spend an hour and half in a nearby pub), and there has been a lot of buzz about this film from the SXSW and Tribeca film festivals. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and the film had the same homemade charm and outsider geek dialogue that made me fall in love with Clerks the first time I saw it. Sure, it goes for some easy laughs at times and the drama wasn’t written anywhere nearly as well as the comedy, but when it treads the difficult line between celebrating and skewering geekdom it is utterly brilliant. Destined to become one of those hidden gems people discover when browsing through Netflix and evangelize to their friends about.

Finally we found out what this year’s Surprise Film was, and although it didn’t end up being the dreamed of (but very unlikely) first UK screening of The Raid 2, it wasn’t a disappointment as it was the new film from John Michael McDonagh, Calvary. It’s a darkly comic tale of a priest (the fabulous Brendan Gleeson) who gets a death threat in confession and is given a week to put his house in order.

The first 90 minutes of the film is a pretty bleak, yet oddly funny look at rural Irish life, and Gleeson is captivating as the world-worn, but ultimately good man of God. Excellent support is provided by Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, and Dylan Moran as this ‘who’sgonnadoit’ simmers along to its denouement. Sadly I can’t really judge the last five minutes of the film, and therefore the film as a whole, as I found a brand new way to live up to the ‘failed’ element of our moniker. Due to a combination of early starts, long days, and mistakenly taking the ‘night’ cold and flu tablets rather than the ‘day’ ones I fell asleep for the exact five minute the film climaxed. That’s right, I’m using the Peter Buck excuse, and I’m sticking to it. It opens UK-wide on April 11, and I will be first in the queue to confess my sin, do my penance, and watch the film fully refreshed after a good night’s sleep.

BD_Logo_WhiteThe Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

The Sapphires

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It didn’t get off to a great start. I was tricked into attending a screening at the cinema which doesn’t have a bar. At least it was a free screening, courtesy of our television providers Virgin Media. We like to sit in the comfort of our own sofa and enjoy our critically acclaimed series links with a sense of moral superiority. Meeting our Virgin peers in real life is a difference matter. Waiting in  line, I felt like I was queuing for my X Factor audition. Only for that I would’ve needed significantly more than two cans of pre-mixed gin & tonic secreted in my coat pockets.

We merry band of Virgins queued near the food stand. My friend was late (because I’d sent her to the wrong cinema) so I stood on my own and pondered the big screen’s great questions. Do people really pay a fiver for a family size cup of Quality Street? Oh yes, yes they do.

‘They used to have a special offer where you could get a big drink & a small drink. They don’t have it any more.’ ‘I can’t eat salt popcorn. It’s so salty.’ – The people behind me successfully maintained small talk about a food stand for 18 minutes.

‘Have you had your tickets checked? What film are you here for?’ ‘Paranormal Activity’. ‘No that’s just a normal film, not a shit munchers film. You don’t have to stand in the lobby’s cheapskate area. You are free to enter your cinema screen immediately, like a fully functioning member of society.’ – Why do people just join queues without checking what they are for? What am I doing here?

I can’t tell you what happened for the first 20 minutes of the film, as Virgin give out free bags of popcorn to every customer. Which is lovely. Like having the full on cinema food experience in 3D.

So there are these Aboriginal sisters. They’re all a bit bolshy, as sisters are prone to be, but their mum keeps them in line by breaking into song whenever they have an argument. And that works, apparently! So, parenting tip: just buy Sing Star. Another parenting tip: if you’re the youngest of three Aboriginal sisters, and you have a small child but decide to jet off to Saigon on a singing gig anyway, your small child will be represented for the rest of the movie by your dad holding an enormous vaguely child shaped blanket. And that will be a little creepy.

Chris O’Dowd stars. At the start of the film he’s a drunk washed up old (Irish) cruise ship ents manager. However, before long he’s whipped The Sapphires into shape, taught them some dance moves and propelled them off to entertain the American troops. He returns from Vietnam a hero. Does Chris O’Dowd always play an Irish man? Genuine question, I’ve only seen him in two films and The IT Crowd. O’Dowd’s performance is pretty fine. It is also important to note that, thanks partly to his initial role as ‘drunken bum’, he appears in his pants no less than three times during the course of the film. If you’re into that kind of thing. (I am very much into that kind of thing.)

The film is set in 1968. You can tell that because the year flashes up on the screen at the beginning. And thanks to vague references to the Vietnam war. It doesn’t really feel like 1968. There is a war scene at one point, which is a bit like when you watch Band of Brothers and shout out ‘oh look, David Schwimmer’, and ‘hey, that’s the guy from The IT Crowd’.

The girls ditch their country and western routes and enjoy great success on the army circuit with their performances  of soul classics. It’s toe tapping, but there aren’t enough songs for it to be considered a musical. Amid the singing, there’s the requisite amount of family drama, kissing, and sparkly dresses. It’s just nice, you know? With a clunky bit of ‘based on a true story’ thrown in at the end for good measure. Just be sure to take your own Quality Street.