The Hole in the Ground – a review

really must change those drapes…

Impressively realised and clearly punching above its weight in terms of budget, The Hole in the Ground, despite its flaws, is a solid addition to the Irish cinematic landscape and to the horror genre as a…whole.

Smart and stylish, the first act is full of suggestion and an ominous sense of suspense, thanks in no small part to the taut score by Stephen McKeon. Then comes the emotionally autumnal colour palette, claustrophobically framed close-ups and some sweeping aerial tracking shots (a la Stanley Kubrick’s epic opening from The Shining), all of which tell you two things pretty quickly:

1) this is a well made film

and

2) something bad is going to happen.

Enter the eponymous, if somewhat incongruous, Hole in the Ground. Without giving away any plot spoilers, suffice it to say that the film would have worked perfectly well, nay even better, without the Hole. It descends into generic tropes which are, pardon the pun, beneath it. Not to mention some glaring logical incongruities which only serve to frustrate and dissociate.

After establishing such suspense and intrigue, the art of not-seeing, of not-knowing, would have redoubled the sinister impact it had worked so hard to establish and was valiantly attempting to deliver. However, like a tightly wound yo-yo, after all the excitement and preparation, the craftful building of tension, it unravels to reveal nothing at the end of the string but a somewhat silly and disappointing toy.

Neatly written and sharply acted – with a compelling lead from Seána Kerslake and an amazing piece of casting in the Irish-Hayley-Joel-Osmont, James Quinn Markey – The Hole in the Ground maybe a victim of its own genre; necessitating basic scares rather than sticking to its preternatural guns. The result: a worthy watch but not greater than the sum of its parts.

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The LEGO Movie 2 – a review

a real man reads the instructions…

It’s been five years since The LEGO Movie graced our screens. And five years have passed in that world too. Picking up in the moments immediately following the curtain call on the first instalment, via a combination of flashback and neat exposition, we learn that the dreaded DUPLO invaders have taken over and systematically destroyed our hapless hero Emmet’s world; leaving in their wake a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style landscape.

Depicting a world that’s, essentially, gone to sh*t. Everything is very much not awesome. Draw your own parallels here from a ‘post-truth’ America and the wider global political machinations…

So, The LEGO Movie 2 picks up where it left off: in its own (now trademark) irreverent, self-referential pastiche style. That’s thanks largely to returning duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote and directed 2014’s instant classic. This time around they’ve taken a more executive role, still penning the script but handing over the reins of directing the action to Mike Mitchell, who has previous in big budget kids’ movies. Lord and Miller also now serve as producers, ensuring their brand stays, well…on brand.

One-time super-villain, Lord Business, appears only as a cameo here (one of too many others to mention). Instead Emmet, Wild Style and the gang must now fight the seemingly indefatigable enemy from the Systar System: the ever-smiling but deadly DUPLO.

The first thing to say is that this is just as much fun as the first film. A few new characters keep things feeling fresh with our staple heroes still delivering the laughs (Will Arnett as the narcissist Batman can never get enough screen time). Where it inevitably lacks the originality of its progenitor, The LEGO Movie 2 makes up for it in ambition and grandeur; forming a shiny, glowing and bulging genre-kaleidoscope of a movie event. The songs, too, have been upgraded and will no doubt be synonymous once again with the film’s guaranteed success.

Whereas kids’ films from the 80s used to scare you half to death in to behaving yourself appropriately, forcing involuntary searches under your bed for the malignant and always-lurking-to-get-bad-children evil forces, the 21st Century moral compass has shifted considerably more towards shining a light on all that is glorious and beautiful in our world – to give hope in times when there might otherwise be none.

So, there are some rather crow-barred and very American-Dream aspirational style wholesome messages for pre-pubescent viewers, about how change is OK and to just-be-who-you-really-are etc etc (see here the character of Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi…), which is all a bit heavily ham-fisted but, still, not a bad message for kids growing up in this crazy world.

With stunning visuals, a riotous ride and the cast on top form (Pratt’s so good he gets to play two roles) – The Lego Movie 2 is a smash hit. Just strap in, leave your troubles at home and try not tapping your feet!

 

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You Were Never Really Here – a review

you lookin at me…?

On the surface, director Lynne Ramsay‘s You Where Never Really Here is a film about a hitman fighting to rescue a young damsel in distress. Doesn’t sound like anything new. Bursting out from under that surface, however, is something very different.

Joaquin Phoenix offers something that few, maybe none, of his contemporaries can. He is almost elemental in his physicality. His tortured Joe, here, is a maelstrom of dysfunction, maladjustment and suicidal trauma.

Recurring, and perhaps ever so slightly overused, flashbacks enlighten the roots of his fractured existence. And here in lies the film’s depth and impact. The comparisons to Martin Scorsese‘s seminal Taxi Driver are valid and fair, if not well earned. There are almost certainly visual references, nods and, dare it be said, homage to that classic throughout Ramsay’s film. It’s more a tonal piece about the realities of living with post-traumatic stress disorder, the violent retributional rage and suicidal abandon that go along with that, rather than a conventional narrative film. The plot is largely secondary, in fact, the focus being so prevalent on Phoenix’s characterisation of a man not broken but shattered, destroyed, by the terrible things he’s seen and done. Questions are subtly but powerfully raised about the consequences when our society asks certain terrible but necessary things of the few, so that the many don’t have to.

Although an incredibly violent film, a very deliberate and overt decision has been made not to actually show any of it, not in any conventional glamourised style anyway. It’s almost all aftermath; cause and effect. Flashes of image and sound rather than gory close-ups and multiple angle showy action editing. In fact, as is so often the case, the marketing for the film and, in particular, the trailer are misleading. This isn’t your classic action revenge movie with Joaquin Phoenix playing the badass hero. Ironic that such a dishonest portrayal of the film is used to promote it, as it is incredibly raw in its honesty as a piece of filmmaking. A thing can be both raw and beautiful. Like a crude diamond. And it’s fair to say that Ramsay harnessed that kind of performance from Phoenix with considerable craft.

Oh, and whether you love or hate an ambiguous ending, then here you get the possibility of three. The film’s title possibly making sense for the first time just as the credits roll. Not for the faint-hearted but by cleverly subverting its genre, You Were Never Really Here allows itself to say more. And Phoenix, again, is terrifyingly magnetic.

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