Irish cinema is in a healthy position at the moment, indeed the recent slew of OSCAR nominations that Irish funded films have received this year, marks a significant achievement for our national cinema.
Two Irish films have been shortlisted for Best Film at this year’s Oscars, with Irish films securing a record nine nominations in total. Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, and Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley, are on the Best Picture shortlist. Abrahamson is also shortlisted for Best Director. No matter what one thinks of the Oscars themselves the last weeks nominations shows that the industry here is growing in confidence and in talent, this is despite the film boards budget being cut to far below it’s highpoint of 2008. Indeed last Wednesday, at the recent launch of their film catalogue for the coming year, a number of different speakers from the chief executive to the acting head of the board called on the Irish government to reverse funding cuts introduced during the financial crisis.
At the presentation in Dublin attended by prominent film directors, producers and actors, the acting chair of the board, Annie Doona, described 2016 as a “watershed moment” for the Irish film industry.
Given the success it has had garnering the previously mentioned award nominations on a reduced budget the people speaking up on behalf of the film board are doing so from a position of strength and one can look towards the future of the industry in Ireland with renewed hope. Always a good thing in the new year, a bit of hope never goes amiss.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers
Running Time: 117 min
Already one of the most critically acclaimed Irish films of recent memory, Lenny Abrahamson's new film is based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue and is partly inspired by the Josef Fritzl kidnapping case in Austria. The story centres in two people Jack, a five year old boy played wonderfully by Jacob Tremblay, who has grown up entirely inside a small electronically locked garden shed. Joy, Jack's mother, played by the remarkable Brie Larson was kidnapped 7 years before our film joins them and it was during this imprisonment that she gave birth to Jack. In their tiny living space, Joy has constructed an ontology in order to help Jack make sense of his environment. Room is the only real space in this worldview and their tv set shows them worlds that are “not real”. As Jack once says during the film, “Only you and me are real”.
This is a film of two halves or even four quarters. (Anyone who wants to know nothing more of the plot should stop reading now, though the film's trailer gives more away than I ever could.) The first half of the film details Joy and Jacks existence in “Room” and the second half shows us what happens to them when they finally find freedom. It is this second half, or the second half of the second half, that I found some elements disappointing. After creating a very real and palpable world in the first hour, Abrahamson's film descends into at times, broad, banal cliches for its last quarter. The problem the filmmakers have is in trying to find some universal meaning for their story once their protagonists emerge from their prison. What was previously applicable to any parent/ child relationship when we are locked with them in the room, becomes too specific and extraordinary to hold the same universality when we watch as Joy and Jack struggle at times to readjust to life amongst the living. Rather than maintaining its uniqueness, the film ends up being (nearly) just another Hollywood film. Their struggle is just too singular to offer a bigger meaningful metaphor for life.
For all these minor complaints this film is an exciting and at times extremely moving meditation on motherhood and parenthood, and marks another significant forward step in the career of it’s director, who is arguably the most interesting and talented Irish filmmaker of recent (or any) memory, but the second quarter here shows us that even our most consistently original film director can fall into the trap of banal cliches as much as anyone else. It is the only slight on an impressive piece of work which will be essential viewing for most. This is a significant piece of work and comes highly recommended.
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4 out of 5
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson,
Running Time: 157 min
The new film from the director of last years Birdman, arrives with an avalanche of rumours surrounding the film's supposedly nightmarish production, where the actors and in particular DiCaprio endured a living hell of freezing conditions and elements for his art. This is a visceral, gut punch of a film. It’s been some time since I watched anything quite so gruelling in the cinema. Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass, a skilled navigator guiding a posse of trappers in the snowy 19th-century frontier. Glass gets mauled by a bear (in one of the most harrowing scenes from a movie in recent memory) and as he is holding the group down, they decide to leave him behind, it is this and subsequent further betrayals that force Glass into enacting a truly bloody revenge. Dicaprio here is as always great as the almost wordless Glass, we feel every painful step he takes, we heave and struggle along with him, we share his pain and are lost with him in the great white expansive plains of North America. This film doubles up as a homage to both the human struggle to survive and the at times punishing beauty of the world we live in. Unlike most films you will see so go and see it while you can.
4 out of 5
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone,
Running Time: 133 min
Another Rocky film? Who would have thunk it? Actually a solid and lovable new take on old characters. Better than most of the other Rocky films. I mean that in a good way. For fans of the series or anyone else looking for a feel good story that will remind you why you liked the older films in the first place.
3 out of 5