Monthly Archives: April 2015

Review – AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

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Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Serkis
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Cert: 12A Running Time 141 minutes
Release Date: April 23rd 2015

The Marvel juggernaut thunders into town again delivering another slice of supreme escapism for the cinema masses. Picking up where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off, (with Loki’s sceptre in the hands of HYDRA), Age of Ultron sees the team assemble again to retrieve it from a Russian fortress in Sokovia where Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has been busy experimenting in his lab. In a terrific action-packed opening, we see what truly makes each Avenger great and the first shot of Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor together in one slow motion shot will raise the hairs on your neck and set you up for the roller-coaster ride to come.

After defending Earth the last time round from an intergalactic enemy in Avengers Assemble (2012) the enemy this time round is a foe of their own making, a mighty artificial intelligence peace keeping programme created by Tony Stark, called Ultron (voiced by James Spader). Once Ultron is sentient, he develops plans of his own for world peace with the annihilation of the human race top of his list. Joined by the HYDRA enhanced Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who have their own grudge against Tony, Ultron uses his new allies to try and take down The Avengers and complete his mission. With Quicksilver’s bullet speed and agility and his twin sister’s ability to control the neurons in the brain and heighten one’s worst fears, they quickly set to work on each member of the team sending them into a tailspin.

Returning writer-director Joss Whedon has a lot of juggling to do but he handles the film with stylish flair, relishing the quieter scenes as much as the smash bang wallop of the gigantic action set pieces. The charm and charisma of the key players (ultimately what made Assemble such a hit) is again apparent here with some genuinely funny banter. A scene where the other Avengers try to lift Thor’s hammer is hilarious and shows that even out of their spandex, the group is just as cool. A growing romantic connection between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), made all the more complicated by his angry green alter ego is moving in parts and never feels forced. Ruffalo in particular steals the film with his sensitive portrayal of a man afraid of his own power and fearful for the pain and destruction the Hulk brings to mankind. So much so that Iron Man has taken steps to reign him in when his rage gets out of control, kicking off a jaw-dropping set-piece where he chases down the Hulk with his ‘Hulkbuster’.

It’s also nice to see Whedon shining a light on the much side-lined Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and he has some of the best and funniest lines in the script. At one point Hawkeye pokes fun at the absurdity of the setup: “The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I’ve got a bow and arrow! None of this makes any sense!” He’s has been fleshed out this time round and it serves him and the story well.

As the oily voice of Ultron, James Spader is perfectly cast and writer-director Joss Whedon carefully crafts Spader’s mannerisms into his robot visage, making him a fully rounded villain and homicidal maniac that in this universe is totally believable. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen don’t fare as well but they do good with what they are given and Olsen in particular steals their scenes, emerging the stronger of the two. Andy Serkis too is impressive in a brief appearance as Ulysses Klaw, (rumoured for a re-appearance in Marvel’s Black Panther movie slated for 2018).

Despite the 2 hours 20 minute running time, there’s a lot to squeeze in as the sheer scale of the action is enormous (and all the better in 3D IMAX) but Whedon delivers a fun ride with stunning visual effects and brilliantly drawn characters. Watching it you feel like a kid again, discovering the power that movies have to take you out of reality for a while and in a world where The Avengers provide such great company, you’d be crazy not to join them.

****

 

 

Review: CHILD 44

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Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cert: 16 Running Time 137 mins
Release Date: 17th April 2015

Based on the international bestseller by Tom Rob Smith and produced by Ridley Scott, Child 44 arrives on our cinema screens with its pedigree solidly stacked. A prestige cast, a proven director, an experienced Hollywood screenwriter with an adaptation of a hugely popular novel. But as with any page to screen translation, Child 44 runs into the dilemma of what should make it to the screen and what shouldn’t and at what expense to the narrative.

Set in 1953 Soviet Russia, the film tells the story of Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), a war hero who has risen through the ranks of the MGB, the state’s domestic security outfit, as a star investigator of dissident activity. When his friend and fellow-agent’s young son is found dead, Leo is given the task of presenting the file of the State’s findings in the case. In the Stalinist system where ‘there is no crime in paradise’ he must officially state the death as a tragic accident, ignoring the obvious evidence that a murder has been committed. Leo accepts the protocol within the MGB but when his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is named as a spy by a suspected traitor, he chooses not to denounce her and stands by his wife. As a result they are sent into exile to the industrial outpost of Rostov where Leo takes a position with local Police Chief General Nesterov (Gary Oldman). When a boy’s body is found nearby with exactly the same injuries as in Moscow Leo begins an investigation into a series of child murders stretching along the train tracks from Moscow to Rostov.

Hounded by an old MGB rival Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) who has thrived in Leo’s ruination and who suspects him of hunting a murderer, Leo and Raisa must keep one step ahead of him and find the killer before he strikes again.

Child 44 is an engrossing story spread across a wide canvas with interwoven plotlines. On one hand it’s a clever, tense spy drama while on the other a murder mystery and you can see how it would have worked very well as a novel, binding all the various threads together. As a film though you can sometimes feel the gaps in execution and some characters while given room to stretch on the pages of the book are more confined here.

Tom Hardy comes out the best of this, (playing the part with a flawless Russian accent) and you can feel his pain for the child victims and the undeniable love he has for his wife. Noomi Rapace is terrific although her motivations seem to change on a whim rather than have slowly and more believably built up. Kinnaman plays the psychotic Vasili with just the right measure of spite and menace and Oldman is, well he’s Oldman. Always good.

Originally slated for Ridley Scott who handed over the reins to Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), the film perfectly captures the fear and mistrust pervaded by Stalin’s communist rule. Written by screenwriter Richard Price (The Wire, Ransom, The Colour of Money) the script is taut with moments of shock and violence, particularly a scene in which Leo and Raisa are attacked in a crowded cargo train.

There will be plenty for fans of the book to enjoy here but those who haven’t dived in may find they are watching an incomplete jigsaw, interesting and well conveyed as it is.

***

 

 

 

 

Review – THE SALVATION

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THE SALVATION

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce
Dir: Kristian Levring
Cert: 15A Running Time 92 mins
Release Date (Ireland): April 17th 2015

Set in the 1870’s in North America, The Salvation tells the story of a Danish immigrant Jon (played by Mads Mikkelsen) who has toiled for seven long years with his brother to finally have the means to send for his wife and son to join him. Taking the long journey home by stagecoach they run into trouble with two other drunken passengers, a recently released prisoner and his companion. When they try to molest his wife Marie, Jon retaliates and is thrown from the moving carriage leaving his wife and son unprotected. By the time he catches up with them, they have been murdered and grief-stricken Jon shoots both men dead, not knowing that one of them is the brother of the local gang leader Colonel Delarue (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

When Delarue hears of his brother’s demise he demands the local Mayor (Jonathan Pryce) and Sherriff (Douglas Henshall) find the man who did it or he will kill two of their townsfolk. In a town that already pays protection money to Delarue, people are scared and Jon’s quest for revenge quickly turns the town of Black Creek against him.

Shot with South Africa standing in as the Wild West, The Salvation’s sweeping vistas and beautiful but harsh landscapes play a large part in the isolation and lawlessness of Black Creek.

The plot is a simple one that we’ve seen many times but in director Kristian Levring’s hands it’s an intelligent character driven piece executed with a love of the genre. On the downside, allowing his actors room to reflect at times slows the pace and may require more patience from a mainstream audience.

Performances are strong all round but what pulls you in immediately is Mads Mikkelsen (in a role refreshingly different to his chilling turn as Dr. Lecter in TV’s Hannibal). His character is clearly not interested in conflict but when it is thrust upon him and his family, he makes a very swift decision on the action needed and there is no going back. For a man who’s lost everything has nothing else to lose. Mikkelsen is a subtle but powerful actor with great star presence and Levring frames him in close-up for many scenes. When it comes to the action, he is swift and assured, a former soldier who knows his way around a gun.

Playing against him, Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings his own charismatic cool and his scenes with Eva Green in particular are well played, especially as her character Madelaine is mute. Widow to his dead brother, Delarue sees an opportunity for a new romance and the conflict and chemistry between them is fun to watch.

With a strong supporting cast including the always good Jonathan Pryce, the commanding physicality of Eric Cantona as one of Delarue’s gang and Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt’s solo scene stealing turn as Jon’s brother Peter, the film delivers on all aspects you’d expect from the genre.

Levring has said that The Salvation is a tribute to the great American western and it can stand proudly amongst its peers with smart, beautiful direction, outstanding performances and a clean execution of a tightly written screenplay.

****

 

 

 

 

Reach Out and Touch Faith

Okay – so as evening creeps in I’m sitting down to write my post. I had begun to write one yesterday but have scrapped it as I’m not feeling that one today. It’s hard to find the tone. Because I’m here blindfolded really because my book still isn’t finished. Who am I to preach?

So let’s talk about trial and error.

I spent most of this week on a new framing device for my story. And then I scrapped that too. I had jostled around my first 5 chapters, playing with the order and seeing how it felt. And it was good. Chapter 3 is now chapter 1 and better written. I scrapped my prologue too. I don’t need it now that the events of chapter 3 are kicking things off. You know pretty quickly as you write what your favourite or best chapters are. There are ones you know work and there are ones you know don’t and need more fine tuning (or deletion!).

But the more you tinker, the more your book inevitably changes and problems pop up. My first two chapters now have characters in perilous situations, not entirely dissimilar. And so I stormed my brain for ways of solving it. I went back to my notes and re-ignited an already set aside framing device to see if I could resurrect it and fix the problem.

My litmus test is always my husband. I asked him to read it and he didn’t get it – didn’t understand how it related to the book at all. I learned very early on that though my husband is not a big reader, he’s the king of common sense. If he thinks somethings not right it generally isn’t. His criticism has been invaluable since this started. The first time he gave me negative feedback I was genuinely hurt (why, I had worked so hard!) but when I re-read a piece after his comments, he’s always right. It’s good to have someone that will tell it like it is even if you don’t want to hear it.

So my new framing device has gone back on the shelf. While this is a blow to the process, it’s important to not be afraid to waste your time. I’ve sometimes gone with an instinct in writing a character that’s worked out really well so it’s very much luck in terms of what sticks.

Time spent carving and creating a new setup only to realise it doesn’t gel can be very deflating but if nothing else it’s shown me that the core of what I have is okay – it just needs a bit more tlc to iron out the creases. There are two major things that always help me get back on track.

When I’m stuck I like to write out exactly what I’m feeling. It’s a great way of venting it and can give you answers sometimes when you think there’s no solution but to set a match to the whole thing. Something happens when you start typing even if it’s …..’What the hell is wrong with me today? I can’t do it. Why did I ever put these characters in the same space?’…and then you find you answer yourself…’well because I wanted there to be sparks and this is why?’ And before you know it you’re back in the game! My mind can be swimming with all sorts of thoughts and this helps me focus and always digs me out of a few holes!

The second thing is music. When I was working for 20th Century Fox back in late 2013, James Dashner was in town for a Q&A and book signing and as we had The Maze Runner coming up I went along. I also wanted to know how successful writers do it. And I was so thrilled when he said he listened to music as he wrote. Movie soundtracks mostly, a lot of classical too as it helped him get in the headspace and helped the creative juices to flow. Finding the right music to set you in the mood for writing has been essential to me. When I was working fulltime, I had my little laptop on the train and I’d write to and from work. As I walked up the platform every morning the music would go on. The one track that never ever fails to put me in the mood to write is Ian Brown and UNKLE’s Reign. There’s something about that song. It has atmosphere and mood but drama too and I love Ian Brown’s voice. Endlessly. The lyrics are simple too but evocative. It paints, in my mind.

Music has guided me and lifted me to where I need to be to write. I’m not a big music head – I don’t know much but I know what I like. I remember when I was 16 sitting in my friend’s granddad’s car outside her house, across the road from our school and listening to Depeche Mode’s Violator for the first time. That tape cassette nearly wore out with the hours and days and months we listened to it and it kick started in me a love of their music. It was 1990, the sun was splitting the trees and the world was ours. Two years later I saw them live and I’ve never lost that excitement of being in that room on that night. So they inspire me. Dark, sultry, bluesy, angelic, other worldly music. Heaven is a current favourite from Delta Machine.

I’m off on a tangent but music is a vital key to unlocking your imagination. It doesn’t have to pump in your ears as you write but playing in the background it can guide you and help you get where you need to go.

To any creative minds out there – do you listen to music? What are your tracks – what flicks the switch for you?

So I’m back to my drawing board on my slightly echoing events of my first two chapters. But I’ll get there. I’ll type my problems, play some music and the clouds will disappear. Despair, trail and error – all part of the game.

Cx

http://www.billboard.com/articles/review/album-review/6502533/depeche-mode-violator-classic-track-by-track-album-review

The spark that lit the fire…

For years I’d considered writing a book but somehow the idea, the hook never really came to me. The saying ‘write about what you know’ was burned into my brain and I, certainly for the last nine years had pretty much been focussed on having children and family life and trying to navigate a career somewhere in between. I was so tied up in that, that it was the last thing I wanted to write about.

I’ve always been about escapism. That’s why I love cinema and the books I read so much. I want to be taken somewhere else. Somewhere far away and forget myself for a couple of hours. That’s where the magic is for me.

As it happened the spark of an idea struck me when I wasn’t looking for it and writing had slipped down the list of wanton pursuits. I woke up one morning out of a dream, you know the ones that you are completely wrapped up in right up until the moment you open your eyes. One that is so vivid and crystal sharp that you just want to hold on to it and linger in it a little longer. It wasn’t the best dream I’d ever had but there was something about it – a power it had.

Now, I’m a massive fan of The Walking Dead, I love it but in the early days of watching the show I’d try not to watch it at night as I have a delicate brain and I would end up running away from zombies in my sleep. You know, the really ripe ones with limbs and flesh hanging off – not good. So this dream was a zombie dream but in it the girl being attacked was immune to their hacking jaws. She and her male companion were invincible and they laid waste to them with ease. Now my book is not a zombie one (boo!) but I found myself thinking about the people in that dream, who they were, where they came from, how they got there.

And the seed was sewn. After that I couldn’t stop thinking about them and I imagined lives for them both and the bones of a story began to form. One I had to write down. I started making some notes and googling how the hell to get started. There’s lots of brilliant advice out there but the one thing that stayed with me throughout is to write a book that I would like to read. That if I picked up in a book shop I would happily bury myself in.

And the great thing is you can write about anything! It doesn’t have to be a spark from a random dream – it can be absolutely anything you want. The sky’s the limit. So if you have a seed of an idea, allow yourself the daydream of where that story might go and what sort of lives these characters will have with you at the helm.

I should say at this point where I’m at myself. I finished the first draft last November and am early into the second draft now. While I won’t be divulging what the book is about for now (hey it could all change in the second draft) I will say that it’s set in the 19th century (a notion which was insane to me at the time – so very far removed from anything I know) but it’s been such a brilliant experience digging around in the past.

A friend of mine told me a while back (and he’s in publishing – that makes him very smart on the topic!) that it’s rare for a first novel to get published but that you’ll learn more writing your first that you will any and all future ones. So this one is important, it’s a massive learning curve and this experience is vital – you have to have the doubt, the anguish, the euphoria, the mental torture – it’s all part and parcel of the process.

So once you have that idea, grab on to it and don’t be afraid to try it. Fear is the enemy!

Review – JOHN WICK

 

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Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki
Directed by Chad Stahleski
Cert: 16, Running Time 101 minutes
Release Date (Ireland) : April 10th 2015

There’s a scene in John Wick in which Keanu Reeves’ character, a retired assassin is asked if he’s back.

“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer – but yeah – I’m thinking I’m back.”

Keanu Reeves comeback was declared when John Wick performed over the odds at the US box office last October. A slick revenge thriller, it certainly put Reeves back in the spotlight after last year’s disappointing opening of the CGI heavy 47 Ronin.

John Wick tells the tale of a former hitman who has turned his back on his trade to settle down with the woman he loves. But when she dies due to illness he is left alone until a package arrives at his front door in the shape of a puppy his wife had organised for him before her death. The dog (undeniably cute) gives solace to John in his loneliness and grief and just when we think he may be okay after all, car thieves, led by Russian mobster Iosef (played by Games of Thrones Alfie Allen) break into his house. Catching him off guard they beat him up, kill his dear puppy and leave with his 1969 Boss Mustang car.

When word spreads in the criminal underworld that Iosef stole John Wick’s car a wave of fear spreads and those in the higher echelons know that he’ll be coming for him. Iosef, uneducated in the mythical status of Wick’s assassin, is full of bravado as his father, mob boss Viggo (played by Michael Nyqvist) explains that John is the man you send to kill the bogeyman and he never misses.

As John hunts Iosef and his henchmen through a heavily stylised New York City, Viggo places a huge bounty on John’s head in an effort to save his son.

The double act of director Chad Stahleski and producer David Leitch, two former stunt men who run a very successful stunt choreography outfit in Hollywood, (Stahleski doubled for Reeves on the Matrix Trilogy) have a terrific eye for action and the set pieces, particularly the one in the Red Circle nightclub is reminiscent of the lobby scene in The Matrix for its action and fresh styling. Fast-paced and punchy the camera never loses focus of its star and rather than jumping around a scene it allows the actors to do their thing and show off which they do very well.

Reeves is on top form, slim and well trained in close combat using jujitsu moves to take down and crush his enemies. He’s as good with a gun as he is with his hands and is a killing machine, dispatching his enemies with ease. As he showed with his directorial debut, the flawed but nonetheless entertaining Man of Tai Chi, Reeves likes his martial arts and here he brings a cool effortless physicality to John Wick’s hitman.

Action films, while ten-a-penny are rarely as enjoyable or entertaining as this and with strong support from a cast including Willem Dafoe, as a fellow hitman, Ian McShane as the owner of The Continental, a hotel that offers a neutral safe haven in criminal circles – it succeeds in pushing the genre and taking risks that pay off.

With a pumping soundtrack, the film is visually stunning, and while set up on a rather cheesy premise, it’s utterly believable.

Reeves does 90% of his own stunts including some very fast and furious driving so there’s plenty here to keep action fans happy and at 101 minutes it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

****

Welcome to The Dark Blue Light

In 2013 I feverishly and proudly wrote the first post for my new blog – so exciting! I was doing it, going to take that step and launch myself into the blogosphere. And then I stalled. Badly. What was I going to write about? What did I have to say and who the hell out there would be bothered to read it? I buried the notion. Hell I was so busy. I was 12 months into writing my first novel, I was a freelance film publicist working with some of the major film studios in Dublin and I had a family, two kids to keep things nice and hectic.

So the notion was buried. I’m not the most technical of people so the intricacies of that put me off not to mention that I’m actually pretty shy. Social media was not my forte. Still isn’t! But this year things finally came into focus and when it comes down to it, it’s pretty basic – you have to do what makes you happy.

So here I am – finally – with a blog – and a post – wow and the internet hasn’t imploded or anything. Result! I’m still working on my novel but this year I made a decision. In order to do the things that make me happy I was going to have to give it 100%. No more faffing about. If I was serious about writing then I had to take one of those juggling balls out of the air and that was my job. So this is it now. Make or break. Sink or swim.

The Dark Blue Light is the beginning of making things happen and will be a record (if for nobody else but me) of the road to getting my book finished and (all going well) published.

I can’t dispense knowledge on how it’s done – I’m an amateur – but I hope I can share my own experience of what the past three years have been like working on the first draft and where I take it from here.

I also can’t possibility turn away from film. It’s been my livelihood for 20 years (good times!) and so I can’t give it up. So I’ll also post my thoughts on all things movie-related. The first thing my husband said when I told him my outline for the book was that it would make a great movie and that was a joy to hear because sometimes I feel I’m just writing down the movie that’s playing in my head. He was even suggesting casting choices but I’m wise enough not to lose the run of myself. Fassbender anyone? Hey, stop that’s not healthy!

Anyway let the fun commence – let’s plunge ourselves in to the dark blue light……