I went to the Cork International Film Festival! Here are the features I saw:
Really happy to see another Frank Berry movie in the big screen-if you haven’t heard of him he did I Used to Live Here and Michael Inside-two of the best film about working class social issues in Ireland. This film is focused towards our frankly terrible Direct Provision centres as a woman struggles to seek legal asylum as she befriends a security guard. The leads here are great with Letitia Wright really nailing every difficult emotion the script throws at her. I didn’t feel this as authentically as his last two films but it’s a great and cutting reflection of our immigration system and truly worth checking out.
Man on Earth
This a documentary following a man who decides to end his own life as his health continues to deteriorate. It’s a really earnest look at what this process can do and how it makes everyone around him feel-it’s actually rather dynamic and doesn’t hold back on the emotional impact of his family. I found it a bit too meandering for my own taste-it gets repetitive in places and maybe could have been cut down-but man when we get to that ending it truly left me gutted. Necessary filmmaking.
A young Romanian girl in the 70s gets in trouble when her friends get caught writing dissenting letters by their Communist government. This one felt incredibly dragging and not entirely well presented. I didn’t care about any of the characters and it has this weird structure where most of it takes place in like two locations but that changes near the end and it was so dry and bluntly straightforward with presenting its messaging. Did nada for me cannot recommend.
Holy shit this was a blast! A mind-bending movie that takes the violent glee of Happy Tree Friends but transports this into an antiwar movie and plays it utterly, completely straight also there’s a drug trip. It cannot be overstated just how well the tone works here for how ridiculous it all is-it plays their cuteness for comedy, but this is marred with broken friendships, hardened soldiers and a descent into madness that makes Vincent D’Onofrio from Full Metal Jacket go “My dude. Chill”. It doesn’t all come together-I wish the unicorns themselves got more focus-but it is a blast and I highly recommend you catch it.
The director of Vivarium comes back with more social commentary wrapped with preternatural off-kilter mania and dials it up to 900. This movie fucking rocks. It’s great to see Eva Green again and she gamely hits everything the script throws at her but it’s Chai Fonacier who steals the show. A scathing indictment of neoliberalism, wealth disparity, race and mental health while being gripping, uncompromising and legitimately shocking. One of the best horror movies I’ve seen all year.
This was part of the legitimately fun “So Bad It’s Good” segment I hope they bring back cause holy shit this was a ride! Excellent 80s practical effects on an absolutely gonzo plot I went into mostly blind so I may just steer my review towards saying I actually wouldn’t look up a lot about this. It’s a guy who goes to New York with a clear secret holding a basket that gets really rowdy. It’s the best creature feature of the decade but it knows what it is and really has fun with it, and I had a complete blast.
This documentary looks at the immediate exit of the US Army from Afghanistan after Biden decided to withdraw them focused on one of the Afghani soldiers they were leaving behind. There was a lot of insight this gave that I found interesting-the absolute sense of foreboding while this man desperately held onto hope that they could restrain the Taliban is really palpable and tragic. I’m not sure if it works as a well rounded viewing of events which turned me off and it has some draggy pacing but it’s a decent enough watch especially if this kind of subject interests you.
This was not only my favourite movie of the Fest it may in fact be my favourite movie of 2022. I absolutely adored everything that was done here-the dreamy atmosphere, the careful and deliberately eschewed perspective from the protagonist as she examines her father, the acting between our leads (Paul Mescal is chillingly great). There’s such care and detail to capture the memory of a certain childhood holiday that doesn’t really exist anymore and it just puts you in that headspace no matter what your relationship with your parents is. I’ll be thinking about this for a long while now.
This is from the same director of Bait, and it’s very distinctive in style and presentation but markedly different in subject matter. The way it captures that feel of an old 70s movie the Beeb may play at like 3am for time filler is so pungent here, but it’s done to tell a haunting story of loss memory and the places your mind goes to due to isolation. It’s predominantly one actor onscreen for most of it and she does gangbusters but the star here is the mood, atmosphere and amazing, sensual sound design. Great follow up should be discussed more.
This movie looks at a legendary drag artist from New Orleans as he prepares for his final ever show. There is a lot I really appreciated here. The focus of the doc seems really lovely and interesting and his partner has like a wealth of patience we appreciate a good rock in this household. I dunno if it really hits that peak or interest like other queer-focused docs, it seems a little scattered in focus and it tries to go through various facets of his life and the lives of his students but never coalesced for me. Still charming and doesn’t really drag (sorry) so if this pitch interests you it’s worth a gander.
This movie follows a woman who grows a horse tail and it’s weird. It’s really really weird. It’s hard to describe it as anything else really. I tend to just throw “weird” on a lot of films but this one truly just went off the rails and while I don’t know if a lot of it works for me-it seems more interested in catching people off guard than it is telling a fully realised story-I admire the ambition and the scope of what it attempts to be drawn in throughout. It’s supremely confident (especially for a first timer) and if you’re looking for something completely balmy in an European arthouse-y way this one truly goes above and beyond.
How to Save a Dead Friend
This documentary follows a Russian couple as they grow up right at the beginning of Putin’s reign and it’s essentially just their intersecting lives up until more or less now. I was glued absolutely throughout this entire story. It starts on a bleak as all hell note but manages to be life affirming, funny and insanely heartbreaking as you really grow to care for these two and want their struggles to work out. I love the video diary format, it truly captures how technology grew from when they were teenagers, and it’s just resonant of people like my age who were teenagers in the 2000s and where life has led us since. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen all year-emphatic recommendation.
If You Are a Man
A 13 year old in Burkina Faso works at a gold mine as his father tries to get him into school when they can’t afford the tuition. This is a fly-on-the wall doc that shows a really heartbreaking reality of poverty lines that can’t be broken and the lengths folks will do to make money. It’s honestly really no holds barred which I appreciate, though I do think it runs out of steam a bit too quickly this may have worked better as a short. Still it’s a fascinating insight that doesn’t wallow in the misery whilst never downplaying the reality. It’s one of the best looking documentaries I’ve seen all year too.
The Butcher Boy
So this was a movie that was a sinful blind spot for me for many years and oh man am I happy I’ve rectified that-it’s fucking great! Neil Jordan has such a mastery of creating a subtle but off-kilter tone in his work and it’s cool that after a massive film like Michael Collins he can go back to a much more personal and strange little story. Eamonn Owens is a powerhouse here and I’m just really enamoured by its demented direction and shocking, truly unsettling imagery and turns. It has just a few structural issues for me, otherwise absolutely deserving of an Irish classic, more films made here should have taken inspiration from this one.
A really strong look at Section 28, sadly a really prevalent topic to bring up right now. The depressing ways this affected queer life in England is just really apparent, and I like that they didn’t just take one aspect of this. The lead’s partner is defiant in who she is, but she has very little patience to understand where her girlfriend is at yet it doesn’t make her seem unreasonable. The lead does some really messed up things, but you get why in the way it’s framed. I can’t say it’s amazing-there’s a few too many contrivances that suit my liking and it gets too PSA-y in its presentation, but it’s an important piece of recent history that we dare not repeat. Some great direction in an important moment in the end too.
A rollicking little ghost story shot right in Cork! There’s a gamed effort to push the period aesthetic and the horror feels properly claustrophobic and well thought out. I don’t know if the lore they build around this ghost is incredibly effective and the presentation can fall a little flat for me. I did enjoy this however-I think it’s clever to have a ghost story with characters from this time period who are really into ghosts and believe them. Nothing amazing, but good for a glance.
Empire of Light
Here we have the closing movie-Sam Mendes reaching into his heart after making some pretty big showcase movies to tell something more personal and profound with his talents. I liked the cast, the direction, the score especially, it looks great. The story sucks. It’s glaringly self-important, tediously focused and I just hate the absolutely baffling way it tackles racial issues in some desperate attampt at reflecting contemporary times. I don’t doubt Mendes’ heart was in the right place, but good lord these are some topics he was not prepared to tackle (I have issues with the mental health depictions too).
A bunch of older women get together in a dance troupe in Florida. This one’s fine. I enjoyed it. The women here seem like quite lovely people, there’s some actually serious discussions they tackle with a sense of weight without losing the good-natured fun. It’s short and sweet with some decent dances even if jumping to and from women can be a little arduous for me. Still worth checking out-great to see them push against gendered stereotypes.
Into the Ice
This documentary looks at a group of scientists bearing dangerous ice sheets to explore what they can tell us. Climate damage films are kind of dime a dozen and I can’t say this one particularly stands out, but I did enjoy it. There’s a great scope and landscape in this visually fascinating part of the world while also really emphasising the danger they put themselves in for this information-it’s insanely admirable. Not the most standout climate doc, but important and engaging all the same.
A documentary that looks into the anti-abortion movement in the United States. I actually appreciate them taking an impartial look here-even using traditional documentary narratives and framing to make it seem like they’re the heroes here and it supports them (it makes it obvious later it doesn’t). It sincerely gives a decent look into this-and while I’d like a bit more detail on how exactly they recruited a lot of young women who were prochoice before entering college…damn, the scale and devotion they have is honestly kind of frightening. It’s a great one to show a different perspective and scary and-as we know now-powerful one at that.
A look into the karaoke culture of Finland as we go around finding various people into the practice. If anyone knows me personally they know that I am obsessed with karaoke and the vulnerability it reveals in the folks it focuses on is extremely touching and real. I love how the movie segments this all up and still gives time to give a coda to all the personalities it reveals. It’s surprisingly intimate and quite funny yet never just stops feeling real. I highly enjoyed this one and would recommend it to pretty much anyone.
A documentary on the famous singer with these never before seen insights into her life and social circle. I’m not gonna lie-I don’t really know if it’s that I had no real knowledge of Évora as an artist before I saw this but it did not do much for me at all. Docs that just hone in on a famous personality or artist tend to be a really hard sell for me at the best of times, but I didn’t really feel much about the presentation or content revealed that told a sweeping narrative that really got me to care, and a good documentary can make you care about anything. Maybe this will do more for you if you have a connection to the titular artist but for me it felt sloppy and highly unmotivated.
A Perfect Day for Caribou
This film focuses on an estranged father and son as they take an unexpected journey through a barren worn down American town. I didn’t really go into this expecting a lot but it took my by surprise-I really liked it. It’s very off-kilter and strange but not in a way where it’s really in your face-it’s just the tonality and matter of fact way these two explore their complicated feelings towards one another and the rest of the characters they come across, sparse though that is. It can kind of lose me in some lacking shot composition but it makes a lot out of the barren wasteland it’s in and generally looks pretty damn good. Really strong and a fresh and distinctive voice I’d be really excited to see what this director does next.
Terroir to Table
This documentary looks at wine making and. And that’s it really. This was gonna be a hard sell the second I got into it and it remained a hard sell throughout. A really drab boring presentation-no interesting visuals or engaging shots. None of the interviewees had the spark of personality needed to elevate this and it just did not make the bougie world of wine look any way impressive or interesting unless you yourself were involved in it. Abysmal and poorly told-the worst film I saw all fest no doubt.
A woman comes back to her childhood home to face some terrible demons involving her family and mother affinity for witchcraft. This one’s a fun little slice of understated horror in the vain of The VVitch with some pretty strong acting and feminist/queer themes. The cast are strongly realised and while some of the reveals are a little obvious they do a lot to keep you engaged. There’s some great lighting and atmosphere too-you get really sucked into the mood of it all. I don’t think the flashbacks are remarkably well handled and it does kind of peter out a little before the climax but it’s a solid piece and definitely one to check out if this kind of low-octane immersive creep factor flicks are your thing.
This is about an all women anti-poaching unit in charge of protecting a conservation. There is such an obvious angle to take with this story-kind of a girl power thing-that I actually like that it’s more focused on how these women are exploited and it’s way more of a nuanced take on poaching than just outright condoning them. Setting it on a down period really exposes how used these women can get with the excuses their male superiors blurt out never landing. If it had a bit more of a grasp on the focus this could have been a standout doc, but as it stands I was really impressed with the presentation and outright stones it had to call out this entire practice in an anti-patriarchal fashion. Definitely recommend would almost check it out again myself.
So this one is getting a good bit of buzz and I gotta say I wish I saw what others did. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a complete write off-there’s some decent tension as things ramp up to hysteria and I like the actors here. I would say none of them are doing exactly career best work (outside of maybe Hoult who leads my favourite scene in the film), but they’re solid. It’s mostly I feel like I’ve seen better films like this-a descent into madness where everyone slowly realises they’re trapped in it-it’s just food themed to make jabs at ostentatious fine dining culture. If that’s all you need work away-I don’t think they didn’t like make the movie they wanted-I just came out of it feeling cold. No food puns.
Another personal self-reflective story told by an acclaimed filmmaker and-unlike Mendes- I feel a lot more of the filmmaker’s heart as they also awkwardly tackle racism. I just didn’t really like this one either though it is stronger. That authenticity is just marred by some awkward and strange story directions-some that felt obvious some baffling-that I never get a sense of our lead and what this journey is meant to be telling him or us. I don’t find any of the acting particularly standout (though the kids are good), there’s a really really dumb “cameo” of sorts, it feels like the movie picks and chooses story threads at random and I get the kind of classic New York 80s aesthetic it’s going for it just doesn’t do much to elevate this kind of faux-nostalgia it’s hitting at. “Not for me” in a way that feels really, really tiring and annoying to watch.
Matilda the Musical
Probably going to turn off all my fellow 90s kids by saying I honestly think this was as good if not better than the DeVito version! That film got Dahl’s tone better but anyway this shouldn’t be a comparison-both films are solid. I really liked this one-the cast are on point, I really enjoyed our young lead here. The songs are incredible and absolute earworms-I haven’t stopped listening to When I Grow Up. I like that it takes a more grounded approach letting the more fantastical moments of the book really stand out. It’s an actually interesting exploration of shared trauma put on just a solid entertaining film, fun for all the family.
This one got a lot of buzz being about the New York Times article that helped topple Weinstein’s poisonous empire. I think it’s pretty solid! It reminds me a lot of Spotlight, but this film really explores the certain nuances of how misogyny props up not only the entertainment industry but really society in general. It really showed what a seismic shift these women’s efforts were. It doesn’t wholly come together for me-some of the real life cameos were really distracting and the tension doesn’t always stick when they try to layer it but I see what people see in this even if I’m not wowed. If you’re interested in this case or the themes it reflects I’d check it out.
Walt Disney’s latest animated outing nobody saw! Because they barely advertised it. I don’t think you’re missing much, sorry. Like some of the designs are really cool-they never hold back on their animation, and it’s a fun premise with a pretty strong twist near the end. I just did not feel the generational trauma angle as well as like Encanto or the few other times they’ve hit this thread lately. The cast are fine but none of the characters really stand out to me. I do want to like it more especially with the dumb smear they’re pushing because one of the leads is openly gay-but like it’s just not one of their stronger efforts. Maybe you’ll like it more if you’re more into this amazing journey kind of pulp adventure stuff but I don’t think it’s a topic The Mouse is good at tackling.
For my thougths on the shorts I saw in the Cork International Film Festival, click here
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