Review – Calvary

What does a world-weary man of faith do when those around him seek to drag him down to the moral cesspool?

This marks the middle chapter in a planned trilogy between director and actor. On the strength of Calvary, we should be spoiled indeed

This marks the middle chapter in a planned trilogy between director and actor. On the strength of Calvary, we should be spoiled indeed

The arduous journey taken by the imperiled Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is the focal point of John Michael McDonagh’s pitch perfect follow-up to his promising debut The Guard (2011).

McDonagh shares an envious talent for dialogue with his brother, the playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) and on this occasion finds the visual panache that was sometimes lacking in his previous work.

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) receives a visit from his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) in Calvary

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) receives a visit from his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) in Calvary

There’s a striking power to the pit of anger and self-loathing that has engulfed the residents of this Irish coastal village, none more so than in the masterful opening scene; an unbroken four-minute take that rests on Gleeson’s wonderfully nuanced reactions to a faceless parishioner’s declaration during confession that he is going to kill him as retribution against the Catholic church for allowing the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a fellow priest to go unpunished.

James is told to put his affairs in order and spends what we believe are his last days meeting with his disaffected flock, including a butcher (played by Chris O’Dowd), a doctor (Aidan Gillen) and a successful businessman (Dylan Moran), and building bridges with his depressed daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), who has come to visit following a failed suicide attempt.

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) gets a butchers with Jack Brenan (Chris O'Dowd) in Calvary

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) gets a butchers with Jack Brennan (Chris O’Dowd) in Calvary

The whodunnit aspect of the story is a smoke screen for what the film is really about; specifically the loss of faith in both institutions and ourselves and the rage that stems from this towards those in power. Calvary is the Biblical location where Jesus was crucified and the comparison becomes clear as McDonagh’s film plays out.

High Noon is a clear influence (a newspaper he’s reading early in the film refers to Ireland’s “wild wild west”) while, much like Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff in No Country For Old Men, James is bewildered by the peccancy that seeps out of the village.

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is joined by Dr Frank Harte (Aidan Gillen) in Calvary

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is joined by Dr Frank Harte (Aidan Gillen) in Calvary

Each of the villagers he visits is a ‘sinner’ in some form; whether it be of a sexual or moralistic nature (Moran’s repugnant capitalist worships only materialism and believes there’s “no such thing as too much; there’s only not enough”); even his daughter is a sinner in the eyes of the church for having tried to take her own life.

Tellingly though, in spite of their ridicule and goading, most of the locals feel a compulsion to talk to James; as such the character is in essence a vessel to offload their self-loathing.

Someone is determined to make a point in Calvary

Someone is determined to make a point in Calvary

Calvary‘s heightened reality (the moon sits enormously in the sky, for example) and broadly brushed supporting characters can take you out of the film, but its pitch black humour (delivered more often than not by a sardonic James) and wry observations on the dirty affair between the church, its public image and money are on the nose.

The international cast (which includes Isaach de Bankolé and an ancient looking M. Emmet Walsh) are roundly excellent, but all pale in comparison against Gleeson’s supreme performance. Gleeson seems to get better with age and his effortlessly indomitable delivery belies the complexity of a role that one can only imagine this actor inhabiting.

This marks the middle chapter in a planned trilogy between director and actor. On the strength of Calvary, we should be spoiled indeed.

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Four Frames – 28 Days Later (2002)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised magazine and website that shows film in a wider context. To tie in with Frightfest, The Big Picture is running a series of horror-related features and reviews. This piece is part of the Four Frames section, wherein the importance of four significant shots are discussed, in this case from Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror classic 28 Days Later.

The zombie film was, to excuse the pun, a sub-genre that had flatlined at the turn of the century.

Movies thrown together by hacks with low budgets and even lower ambitions had consigned the undead to the DVD shelves. What this sub-section of horror needed was an injection of life and British genre-spanning director Danny Boyle was the man to administer it.

28 Days LaterBoyle’s raw and unsettling 28 Days Later acknowledges its debt to George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy while striking out on its own with an all-too plausible apocalyptic nightmare that, as the director has argued, could happen next Wednesday.

Four weeks after anti-vivisectionists uncage an infected monkey from a research lab and unwittingly unleash the highly contagious ‘Rage’ virus, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma in a deserted London hospital.

Confusion gives way to a queasy disbelief as he wanders the streets of a seemingly depopulated city that has evidently suffered some sort of cataclysm. A glance at a newspaper featuring the headline ‘Evacuation’ reinforces this, but Jim has no comprehension of the threat he faces.

28 Days LaterTo overcome the challenge of depicting an abandoned London, police closed roads at 4am to allow filming to take place, although only for an hour so as not to incur the Rage-like ire of drivers. The rewards can be seen on screen in what has rightly become one of modern horror’s most iconic scenes.

What gives the scene an even more resonant eeriness is its stillness. London has rarely looked more serene or threatening thanks to Anthony Dod Mantle’s urgent DV cinematography, while the escalating horror that Jim and the audience experience as he stumbles further into the city is amplified by Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s apocalyptic post-rock.

28 Days LaterThere are clever touches, such as when Jim feverishly picks up a pile of banknotes, little realising just how worthless they now are. Likewise, a shot of Jim dwarfed by a giant advertising billboard showing smiling, healthy models is a blackly ironic antithesis of what’s to come.

While the nods to the Dead trilogy are clear, the threat of infected, rather than undead, owes more to Romero’s cult classic The Crazies (1973), in which the citizens of a small American town are sent into a homicidal rage after being contaminated with an infectious disease.

The film is also heavily indebted to John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids, in particular when Jim awakens in the deserted hospital (a scene subsequently lifted by TV show The Walking Dead).

28 Days LaterJust as 28 Days Later has borrowed from past masters, so too have others stolen from Boyle’s horror classic, most notably the concept of the ‘fast zombie’ that has shown up in Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead (2004) remake, Zombieland (2009) and, more recently, the mega-budget World War Z (2013).

As the world entered a dark new chapter post 9/11, 28 Days Later’s horrific vision of a world turned upside down reflected our fears of just how precarious social order actually is.

Review – Edge Of Tomorrow

Movies and video games have never made the easiest of bedfellows, so it’s ironic a film based on a book should inadvertently capture what makes great games tick.

As fun a ride as you're likely to have all summer, Edge Of Tomorrow is a film you'll want to watch it all over again

As fun a ride as you’re likely to have all summer, Edge Of Tomorrow is a film you’ll want to watch it all over again

Although Edge Of Tomorrow inevitably attracts comparisons to Groundhog Day in its time loop structure, Major William Cage’s (Tom Cruise) seemingly endless replays and slow, obsessive battle to defeat the bad guys brings to mind the likes of Halo and other highly intensive action games.

In fact it wouldn’t have looked out of place for the words ‘Game Over’ to appear each time Cage dies before respawning at the same point, while its tagline ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ will be familiar to millions of gamers trying to progress through their latest game.

Major William Cage's (Tom Cruise) day is about to turn very bad in Edge Of Tomorrow

Major William Cage’s (Tom Cruise) day is about to turn very bad in Edge Of Tomorrow

Setting aside his odd personal beliefs, you have to hand it to Cruise for having managed to remain at the top of the tree for more than 30 years. He’s also done it on his own terms and has often been prepared to use that winning smile he became famous for early in his career to subversive effect.

Here, the smile is used to sell the allied war effort against an invading alien race known as Mimics who have conquered most of  Europe. In spite of his senior rank, PR guru Cage has seen no combat, choosing instead to fight the war in front of the TV cameras as the face of the United Defence Forces (UDF).

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) and Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) consider their next move in Edge Of Tomorrow

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) and Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) consider their next move in Edge Of Tomorrow

So when UDF commander General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) informs the cowardly Cage that he’s being embedded on the frontlines for Operation Downfall, the UDF’s all-or-nothing invasion of France (it can’t be a coincidence the film has been released in the US on the 70th anniversary of D-Day), Cage unsuccessfully attempts to worm his way out of it.

Deployed in the first wave, Cage is killed within a few minutes, only to suddenly awaken back at the barracks, where the invasion begins all over again. With the help of super soldier and UDF poster girl Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who appears to be the only one who understands what is happening to Cage, they set about trying to defeat the enemy, one death and one time loop at a time.

Super soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) does the business in Edge Of Tomorrow

Super soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) does the business in Edge Of Tomorrow

Director Doug Liman is now best regarded as an action director, although he made a name for himself with the indie classic Swingers (1996). His form in the genre has been patchy; on the plus side he gave us The Bourne Identity (2002), but this was followed by the smug Mr And Mrs Smith (2005) and the tedious Jumper (2008).

The scales have been balanced with this rousing romp (based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) that zips along at a dizzying pace and doesn’t get lost in its time-space continuum. Cruise plays a genuinely slimy and unlikable character who is forced to become a better man by the fortitude and bravery shown by Vrataski.

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself on the frontline in Edge Of Tomorrow

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself on the frontline in Edge Of Tomorrow

Blunt, who must have a thing for time travel movies after staring in Rian Johnson’s Looper (2012), is a breath of fresh air. It’s a role that demands a strong performance and Blunt delivers it with consummate ease; she’s more than Cruise’s equal on screen and flexes both her acting and physical chops.

The film’s kinetic editing style effectively emphasises the sheer number of times Cage must undergo the same events in order to progress that little bit further each time and the psychological impact it must have is etched on Cruise’s increasingly tortured face.

Sci-fi movies steal from each other all the time and Liman is happy to maintain this tradition. The exoskeleton used in the film is lifted from Aliens and last year’s Elysium, while the influence of militaristic sci-fi flicks such as Starship Troopers is palpable.

As fun a ride as you’re likely to have all summer, Edge Of Tomorrow is a film you’ll want to watch it all over again.