Jimmy’s Hall movie review

Featuring: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton, Andrew Scott, Brian F. O’Byrne
Director: Ken Loach
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Movie Website: www.facebook.com/JimmysHallFilm

2014-15 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 19-25 Jan, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 27 Jan-1 Feb, 8pm

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Enjoyable, beautifully shot and well performed, but undermined by a propagandist element that detracts from the humanism of the piece.

The focus of director Ken Loach throughout his long filmmaking career has been the fight of the battler to rise above the indignity and misery of exploitation and economic disempowerment through spirit, humour and the support of a working class community bound by shared values. This tale of Jimmy Gralton, the only Irishman to have been deported from Ireland, is typical Loach fare.

Set in the 1930s, with post-Civil War Ireland under a new government, the film opens with a definitively Irish scene of a cart and horse traversing a winding road through lovely green country. On board is Jimmy (Barry Ward), returning to his home county after a decade of exile in New York prompted by the Church and capitalist forces threatened and outraged by his Communist views and influence on locals while running a community hall encouraging free-thinking and non-traditional contemporary cultural expression.

His plan is to live a quiet life and look after his aging mother. It is not long, however, before bored young locals, for whom he has acquired legendary status, urge him to re-open the hall. Reluctant to risk antagonising the Church and wealthy landowners who have claimed the hall as their property, he initially declines, but it is not long before he follows his heart and reverses his decision.

With the community assisting to refurbish the dilapidated hall and the objections of the party-pooping landowners overcome, it is soon thrumming with activity: boxing, free-thinking discussion groups, and the latest in jazz dance moves brought back from New York by Jimmy, along with a marvellous new gramophone and a swag of groovy records.

It is not long before Jimmy is back in direct conflict with his old enemies. The local priest, Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), emerges as the villain of the piece, and he and Jimmy as figureheads for opposing philosophies and political forces: Christian fundamentalism vs free-thinking humanism, conservative vs progressive, socialist vs capitalist. There is no doubt, of course, about where Loach’s sympathies lie, and his black-and-white treatment of the two characters and the sides they represent is not much short of propagandist – always a weakness in a film in a dramatic context, and too often so in Loach’s work.

That said, Father Sheridan’s ego-driven fundamentalism, and his conviction that his values are right and absolute, and that those who do not share them are to be condemned if not eliminated in the name of righteousness, have tragic parallels in the loathsome terrorist scourge that besets us today. It is difficult to resist mentally hissing at this nasty, scheming, bigoted old bastard, and all he stands for.

Jimmy, on the other hand, is not the powerful personality he should be. Loach downplays his protagonist’s Communist ideology, thereby undercutting his supposed status as a formidable political adversary and threat to the Establishment. Jimmy comes across not so much as a free-thinking revolutionary as an importer of jazz and New World style, and Father Sheridan as a prude and killjoy, rather than a cleric who understands and recognises the threat represented by an ideology that would seek to liberate whole populations from the shackles of the Church and the capitalist system.

The film is at its best when the characters are allowed free reign, unhitched to any political agenda. For example, the high point of the film is a scene in which Jimmy and his ex-girlfriend Oonagh (Simone Kirby) dance alone in the notorious hall, she wearing for the first and probably only time a fetching New York flapper dress he’d gifted her. This touching dance of love unrequited and doomed, but enduring through all, is poignant indeed.

If Jimmy’s Hall is to be Loach’s swansong, as he claims, he has finished with a movie that is enjoyable, beautifully shot and well performed, but it could have been more. He has chosen to sign off as a propagandist in service of his political ideology, when it is his deep-seated humanism that has powered his best work.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

Birdman movie review

Featuring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianikis, Lindsay Duncan
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenwriters: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Movie website: www.birdmanthemovie.com/
Australian release date: Thu 15 Jan, 2015
(Advance screenings: Luna, Fri 9 Jan – Sun 11 Jan)

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A brilliantly directed and performed comedic nightmare excursion into the mayhem and anxiety that is part and parcel of theatrical productions as the clock ticks down to opening night.

Once famous for playing movie superhero Birdman, ageing Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is seeking to revive his flagging career and gain some artistic cred by staging his adaptation of a Raymond Carver play on Broadway.

Riggan’s ambitious project is beset with problems. His neurotic manager (Zach Galifianikis) is close to a crack-up, and more hindrance than help. Upping the tension, a cast member is injured, and with opening night approaching Riggan has no option but to replace him with temperamental, headstrong method actor Mike (Edward Norton) whose narcissism is out of control. While this talented spotlight-bogarting bighead brings edge to the play, there is the ever-present danger that he will push it over the brim.

The two female co-stars are also a worry: one is Riggan’s loose cannon girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), the other (Naomi Watts) a très sensitive and vulnerable Broadway debutante who must be handled with care. But Riggan’s woman trouble doesn’t end there. Out of parental obligation he has hired his troubled daughter Sam (Emma Stone) as an assistant. Just out of rehab, she is a resentful and distracting presence. Worse, New York’s most powerful theatre critic, fearsome nutcracker Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), is gunning for the hapless Riggan, outraged that a trashy Hollywood action star should dare presume he has anything to offer Broadway.

However, Riggan’s self-image is perhaps his greatest obstacle to success in his new stage career. He is shackled to the Birdman character, whose taunting voice is always in his ear, reinforcing his self-doubt and urging him to return to his superhero role. When his esteem is at its lowest following a mauling in a bar from Tabitha Dickinson, the Birdman character manifests itself accompanied by Hollywood comic-hero explosions and other big-action dramatic effects that mock Riggan’s current quest for artistic credibility.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu draws on Riggan’s inner chaos and that of the backstage theatre world in fashioning the film, creating a fascinating tonal weirdness by combining elements that should not work together, but mostly do. In the opening scene, for example, Riggan is in his dressing room, levitating cross-legged a metre above the floor in his underwear (not a good look, regardless of the apparent magic and mysticism afoot). The image is open to multiple interpretations. Are we in for a fantasy trip, a dose of magic realism, an externalising of Riggan’s inner imaginings/delusions, a pisstake? Yes, yes, yes and yes…maybe.

And so it goes throughout the film as Iñárritu lets loose, giving his considerable powers full reign. Using extended one-take shots, he stalks Riggan on his comedic nightmare excursion into the mad, volatile, frenetic, frightening mayhem of his newly adopted theatre milieu as the clock ticks down to opening night. Against a backdrop of personal and professional crises, rehearsals teeter on the balance, as last-minute script and interpretative changes force the play and its players into a painful and confronting metamorphosis, and the wild-riding cinematography expresses this.

This is virtuoso filmmaking, no less, and on one level it is deadly serious in its intent, but there is nothing precious about it; there is always an undercurrent of irony, of black humour. In the most memorable scene of the film, for instance, a near-naked Riggan accidentally locks himself on the wrong side of a side-exit and has no choice but to run through the crowded streets of Broadway to the main entrance of the theatre. It’s a funny sequence, yet sobering in its figurative allusion to Riggan’s past and present career, and to the self-exposing and sacrificing – and potentially humiliating – nature of acting itself.

Michael Keaton will be acclaimed for this performance, and deservedly so. He is in lockstep with Iñárritu’s direction; these guys were made for each other, and for this film. Other than Keaton, Norton and Stone are the standouts, but all the performers hit the right notes, which is no mean feat in a work of this complexity and tonal ambivalence.

Unfortunately, there are some wobbles approaching the finish line. The ending works, yet is disappointing at the same time. Perhaps Iñárritu is a victim of his own brilliance, setting up the expectation that he will demand his screenwriters pull something special out of the hat, yet accepting only a rabbit.

This is the smallest of gripes – Birdman is no bunny. It’s a free-flying fn dizzbuster of a film that should be seen on the big screen. Opens 15 January. Mark the date.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

Two Days, One Night movie review

Featuring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Baptiste Sornin
Screenwriters/Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Movie Website: www.ifcfilms.com/films/two-days-one-night

2014-15 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 5-11 Jan, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 13-18 Jan, 8pm

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A beautifully written, directed and performed piece of realist cinema, with Marion Cotillard exquisite in the lead role.

Great to kick off 2015 with a terrific film like this. Hopefully, it’s a forerunner of a bumper batch ahead.

The narrative is as simple and slight as they come: a young Belgian mother, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), having learnt that she has been laid off, spends the weekend visiting her co-workers to try to convince them to forgo their annual bonuses so that she can keep her job. Just out of hospital after a nervous breakdown and meek by nature, the task before her seems insurmountable, but with the constant encouragement of her husband she plugs on, calling on one person after another.

In terms of action, there is not much more to the film than Sandra traipsing from one home to another, and pleading her case. However, as Monday approaches and her support numbers edge closer to the crucial majority she needs, the dramatic tension builds, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat, willing her on.

The simplicity of the narrative places Sandra in the full and unrelenting glare of the spotlight. There is nowhere for Cotillard to hide, but she is flawless in her sensitive depiction of Sandra’s courageous battle to overcome the low self-esteem that makes her humiliating mission so daunting, and riveting in her charting of her fragile character’s inching progress. She compels us along on her emotional rollercoaster ride: the tiny growth spurts in Sandra’s confidence as she scores small victories are warming, inspirational, yet just when she dares to hope, another co-worker turns her down. Her pain and despair as she crumples is palpable, but her husband is always there to pick her up and somehow she resumes the fight, running on empty save for his enduring love and support.

While this is an unremarkable suburban setting, and the characters ordinary people living small lives, all the dualities of large-scale drama are present: heroism and villainy, loyalty and treachery, self-interest and altruism, courage and cowardice…and the rewards for the viewer, as for the lead character who finds the guts to fight the good fight to the bitter-sweet sting-in-the-tail end, are rich indeed.

Two Days, One Night is realist cinema at its best. No guns, no ultra-violence, no lurid sex, no CGI – just an entirely credible narrative underlying a beautifully written, directed and performed piece of cinema, with Cotillard simply exquisite in the lead role. What more do you want?

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

The Boomtown Rap: Movies of 2014 – Best, Worst etc

A disclaimer or three:
“Best” and “worst” movie lists are inevitably reductive and subjective, so let’s accept that limitation from the outset. Further, I did not see every movie released in 2014, including some that have been extremely well received. And my viewing is heavily weighted towards arthouse/indie. Thus, the only meaningful approach I can come up with while factoring in the subjective nature of a qualitative roundup of the year’s films is to arrange my selections in categories that make sense to me, while acknowledging the classifications as idiosyncratic. So there ya go. Take ‘em as you will.

Best Movies of 2014 (in alphabetical order, linked to my reviews):
Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed
Still Life [not reviewed]
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Tracks Continue reading

Curiosity or catastrophe – it’s all in the timing

Braithwaite Park, Mount Hawthorn would have to be one of the most well patronised community parks in Perth. Leading up to Christmas it was full all day, every day – kids playing ball games, picnickers, mummies chatting over wine, birthday parties with the usual add-ons – bouncy castles, pony rides, fenced farm animals, adult fairies and clowns (not always in clown gear and make-up) bullying passive kids into having “fun”…

Glory be, my partner and I were even over there one afternoon at our annual street Christmas getogether, sitting around a table having a beer with neighbours beneath the shade of one of the ancient, massive trees – this one: Continue reading