Cork Film Festival 2019

So I went to the Cork Film Festival! This is really delayed, so let’s dive into the movies I saw, starting with:

Lost lives

I definitely do not stand against the message of this film. It’s a showcase of a book written about the lives lost during the Troubles-one of the most comprehensive books written about victims of a longlasting violent conflict, narrated by various notable actors. It’s a sobering reminder of what was going on in our recent history, made even more sobering by the ending where they list victims of sectarian violence long after the Good Friday Agreement. I feel it just works better as a series of vignettes than an actual cobbled together film. The visuals can be nice, but they’re not very engaging and it’s just a lot of information narrated in very similar cadence and direction. I feel this book and film have a grand importance, but it’s never something I’d explore again. 5/10

Le Mans ‘66

Matt Damon and Christian Bale are hired by the Ford company to make a racecar that will tackle Ferrari’s stance on the sport of racing in this true life tale of the men behind titans conflicting. And it’s great! The main actors are top notch, and while Damon is game as the past-his-prime even-tempered retired racer, it’s Bale who steals the show being effortlessly charismatic, down-to-earth, arrogant and hotheaded all at once. It’s a spellbinding and really entertaining performance, one of the best this year. I love how the racing is depicted-some of the best I’ve seen onscreen since Senna-the period feels well lived in and authentic, I love the actual level of detail they go into to enrapture yourself into this sport and how it’s won. It drags a little near the end, and I didn’t find Bale’s son to be that great an actor for how much he’s in the movie, but it’s an exhilarating and really goddamn entertaining look at doing what you love and never losing that commitment to your craft. Definitely check it out, 8/10

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

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The director and star of the distinctive and incredibly memorable Crumbs come back with another madcap idea from their brilliant brains. In this one, the world is connected by a virtual reality that’s been taken over by a computer virus named Soviet Union, and it’s up to two CIA agents to stop it. I’ll spare you other plot details, but this movie involves alternate universes, bizarre cults, fake looking masks and insect costumes, a Joseph Stalin virus and a corrupt ruler dressed up as Batman. It’s absolutely ludicrous and strange, and never lets up and always keeps you guessing where it’s going to go next. It’s a noteworthy look at more political affects on our world where Crumbs was more interested in cultural affects, and while the ending leaves a lot to be desired for me, it’s a silly, audacious and ferociously engaging watch. Loved this film, though it’s not for everyone. 8/10

The Golden Glove

This is a dramtisation of the life of Fritz Honka, a German serial killer who frequented a dodgy bar and stored his victim’s bodies in his top floor apartment. This movie is fucking gross, right from the offset and difficult to watch, but in a good way. Jonas Dassler is =excellent as the repugnant and unpleasant man, almost charming in how pitiable he is. This movie has a distinct personality and actually keeps the violence to some incredibly shocking burst, moreso giving you the grime and filth of the unkempt apartment, the rotting corpses and the dinghy, badly cleaned bar. Fascinating character study of a dejected and incredibly unsympathetic man, never holding back how utterly monstrous he is both outwardly and inwardly. 7/10

The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s follow-up from The Babadook takes a decidedly more pointed direction, looking at an Irish indentured servant who goes on a revenge quest to take down the army captain who owned her with the help of a less-than-impressed Aboriginal guide. There’s a great look at the effects of colonialism and how much it really takes from these lands and their people, complemented by some beautiful cinematography showing the stark danger of the woods against the peaceful, idyllic yet harsher dangers of the “settled” towns. The two leads have great chemistry, and while the violence will absolutely be a deal breaker for people, I admire how uncompromising the set-up for this story is. It’s a bit too on the nose in places in terms of stating its themes, and the villains are a bit too cartoonishly evil with very little humanity offered to them, but it’s an engaging and really well-made watch from a fiery and daring talent who I hope to see more from in the future. 8/10

Singin’ in the Rain

Yeah, this is my first time seeing this. I fucking loved it. I love that it balances between a loving send-up and mocking derision of 1920s Hollywood and its transition into sound. How much chemistry Gene Kelly has with Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor cannot be overstated, and the story is a lot of fun, but what really makes it are the set pieces. The song and dance performances that are energetic, alive, clever and so much goddamn fun. I’ve never been in an audience that applauded scenes like that before! It’s probably a little too kind to the Hollywood system for my taste, but it’s an undoubted classic and a really fun, colourful, mesmerising watch that will have you humming for days after watching it. 9/10

So Long, My Son

This film tells the 3-decade long tale of a married couple and the various hardships they had to face. This has some of the best acting I’ve seen all year-you feel every moment of struggle that Yong Mei and Wang Jingchun feel throughout their difficult lives, cleverly complemented by the changing political and economic landscape of China as time passes. This is a story of this country’s growth as much as it is this couple’s, and how that growth does not always come with a sense of wisdom or peace. It’s methodical and excellently framed, and while the story structure can be a little disorienting, and certain plot points I wasn’t crazy about, it’s a fascinating and really sad story about a very real feeling couple and the challenges life threw at them. 8/10

A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick made a movie! Your liking of it will depend on how much you can take Terrence Malick movies. Going away from the more dreamlike, mosaic and seemingly plotless endeavours of his latest outings, this tells the true life story of a man who was arrested by the Nazis for being a conscientious objector. I actually feel his style and cinematography doesn’t work with a traditionally told story that well, as it feels way more meandering and repetitive as it could have been. It still has that dreamlike quality-more reminiscent of Days of Heaven and To the Wonder than Tree of Life. It still has stellar visual texture and the story is relatively easy to follow, this just felt hard to engage with and it’s themes increasingly overstated.  There are better Nazi objection films, and there are better Malick films, but if you’re into his stuff you may get a kick out of it. 7/10

Jojo Rabbit

From one Nazi movie to the next! And this one was amazing. One of my favourtie films is Little Miss Sunshine, and that flick puts a great emphasis on seeing the cynical adult world through the perspective of a child. This does something similar, except it’s Nazis and our lead is a young Hitler fanatic to the point where he has an imaginary friend Hitler played to hilarious perfection by Taika Waititi. It’s a biting and incredibly clever satire about the inherent childishness of fascistic rhetoric and ultranationalism, as well as being a potent and really sweet story about the maturation of empathy and seeing the world through hopeful, spirited means. Giving in to fear and isolationist philosophies is always easier than trusting and embracing different people with empathy and respect. I love the cast-Taika is an excellent director of children and Scarlett Johannson is absolutely great. The gags are well timed, every moment makes me laugh, it manages to lampoon Nazis while also taking their threat seriously (I’ve never been so terrified of Stephen Merchant!). It’s one of the best films of the year, and if you haven’t seen it you’re doing yourself a disservice. 10/10

The Sweet Hereafter

This is a film from the 1990s starring Ian Holm as a lawyer who pursues a class action lawsuit after a bus crash leaves a community devastated. I like how this conflict is handled-it’s very real how a close-knit community (the kind that were dying out at the time) become unravelled as their worser natures came out over a collective grief. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t really dig in terms of where the plot went-we hear a lot about Holm’s daughter which never factors that heavily into the story outside of expanding on his complete lack of respect in how he approaches such a delicate issue-also the out of time story threads are not that well implemented. But it’s a compelling and honest story with a lot of interesting directions you don’t really see in film. I love the vibe it has, and I’m glad I caught it. 7/10

Mother

This documentary looks at a nurse that looks after Europeans with dementia in a specialised hospital in Thailand. The set up here is fairly basic, but it’s seriously impressive to see this young woman’s selflessness but also her really terrible situation as she’s driven from her family in order to work. it’s a great insight into a profession that a lot of people overlook, with the undercurrent of how exploitative these tactics can be, even for a cause as great as taking care of the invalid. It’s a simple set up with not a lot of meat on it, but it’s a really nice look into this kind of world you may not have had any insight into, and shows what some people have to take home or, in this case, separate home from themselves in order to provide and live. 6/10

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

A painter comes to the house of a rich baroness to paint her daughter before in order to officiate an engagement the woman is less than thrilled about. This is a fiery and intensely passionate period drama that’s subtle and methodical but bursting with life and sensuality. The three leads all do a fantastic job and the isolation and secrecy of the location-with its strong winds and shots of death-like cliffsides-really convey the emotion and tone the film is trying to convey. It doesn’t quite reach the heights it’s aiming for, especially when it comes to the messages of oppression and lost experiences, and I wish the subplot with the maid (the third lead) got a bit more substantive focus and cohesion with the main story, but it’s richly shot with a sparse but excellently thought out soundtrack and one of the best ending shots I’ve seen all year. Worth checking out. 7/10

The Lighthouse

This movie is fucking excellent, and if you haven’t seen it immediately you’re doing yourself a disservice. Telling the story of two lighthouse keepers stuck together for a couple of weeks, their isolation quickly grows into insanity and hatred as their relationship warps into something bizarre and possible preternatural. This is career-best work from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson-two excellent performers who have some of the most electrifying chemistry I’ve ever seen. It’s funny and all kinds of twisted, but also with a glint of neediness and longing for human connection. Pattison’s descent is excellently showed off with a clever aspect ratio, amazing sound design and beautifully thought out shot composition-not one frame of this feels out of place. It’s really keeps you on your toes about what’s happening and also has a haunting ending. Go in and blind as you can and be ready for a trip. 9/10

Greener Grass

I guess the best way to describe this is if Quentin Dupieux remade The Stepford Wives. If that sounds like a nightmare to you, can’t imagine you’d be won over by this film. Alas, I was. I wouldn’t look up a lot about it-its joy is discovering just how out there and creatively bonkers the set up and ideas are. It’s beautiful absurdist comedy that takes down the incredible inauthenticity of the “perfect” life through the upper-middle class soccer mom aesthetic, but taken to such crazy extremes it’s hard to really guess what will happen next. It can fall into weird sketch comedy moments in places, but I had a blast and would absolutely recommend this to anyone with that kind of taste for something different. Just be sure to go in blind, expect what not to expect. 8/10

Frozen II

I mean your kid may like it? I dunno, I’m kind of torn on this one. I’m glad it wasn’t just a rehash of the first movie-I actually think they take the story in an interesting direction. Elsa is a more active presence and it can be really funny. But it’s thematically a mess, the songs were nowhere near as memorable except for Into the Unknown and they make a huge deal of the other tribe yet they get dropped pretty unceremoniously near the end, in fact most of the cast do sans Elsa, Anna and Olaf. This felt like a too many cooks situation where they tried to please everybody, and everything ended up half-baked and not that well thought out. it’s just kind of…fine? It’s one of the better Disney sequels absolutely-I’d watch this again over The Incredibles 2 or Ralph Breaks the Internet. Your mileage may vary, but I feel this needed another draft or two before becoming something on par with the original. As it stands, it’s fine. Take the kids, they’ll have fun. 5/10

The Other Lamb

The closing film was an Irish co-production about a young woman who was born into a small cult with an eccentric male leader who surrounds himself by nearly all women who worship him like a God. I wish I was more impressed by it. I think the cast do a bang up job-they really feel like a full fledged community. But there are parts of this that feel really cheap, and it’s not exactly a story I haven’t seen done before and better. There is stuff I enjoyed about this, I like seeing a few familiar Irish faces in a big co-production, it just kind of drags and takes a journey that seemed really obvious way sooner than it took them to reach, and even then there’s no real tension in how they will get to the inevitable end point. I’d say check it out for yourself, but for me I don’t see myself ever watching this again. 5/10

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