Rose Plays Julie (2019)

2020 #239
Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy | 101 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | Ireland & UK / English

Rose Plays Julie

Long Lost Family meets rape revenge thriller in this Irish drama about a veterinary student, Rose (Ann Skelly), who was adopted as a baby and now decides to finally meet her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady), only to uncover a dark secret about their shared past. Well, I’ve kinda given away the ‘secret’ in my opening ten words, haven’t I? My apologies if you’re a total spoilerphobe, but here’s the thing: some blurbs and whatnot try to conceal that reveal (and when it comes in the film, it is played as a revelation; more on that in a bit), but, frankly, even if you haven’t already had it spelled out (and most reviews don’t try to hide it), it’s pretty easy to guess where things are going — perhaps even from reading one of those oh-so-oblique blurbs (that’s when I figured it out).

But this isn’t your standard rape revenge movie. The act itself is historical, with only its aftermath shown in a couple of fuzzy flashbacks — this isn’t one of those trashy flicks that has its cake and eats it by ickily revelling in the assault before also enjoying the violent vengeance. And instead of the avenger being a dismayed husband/partner, or the (attractive, young) wronged woman who’s suddenly an expert assassin, it’s the daughter who came of it. If you’re after the visceral thrills of the aforementioned kind of rape revenge movies, you won’t find them in this slow-burn, introspective drama; but if you’re open to that style, the mother-daughter angle of how it approaches its subject matter is a unique element.

This is where the Long Lost Family part remains relevant, because the tentative new relationship between Rose and the mother who gave her up two decades ago is almost a big a part of the film as her seeking out and confronting her biological father. This rides a lot on Skelly and Brady as actors, because writer-directors Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy aren’t the sort of filmmakers who write big speeches where their characters explain their feelings — quite the opposite. Instead, we study their passive faces in extended closeups, trying to discern what’s going on as they think things over. One of the most outwardly expressive moments comes when Ellen reveals their shared past to Rose, in a blunt statement just hours after they’ve first met. It’s probably not the best way to go about telling someone that was how they were conceived, but it makes for a slap-in-the-face moment of drama, and Skelly’s reaction is powerful: she doesn’t ‘do’ anything, but her face changes entirely.

The secret comes out

The film’s quiet, subtle mode must be challenging for an actor — no grand emotive speeches to show off with — but this cast are up to the challenge. Skelly is obviously the standout, letting through just glimmers of reaction that allow us to understand how much she’s struggling with all this troubling new information. Brady is very good also, even though I feel like some of her character arc has been left offscreen, between scenes. Rose’s father, Peter, is played by Aidan Gillen, who always excels at embodying smarmy bastards, and that extra-textual awareness helps him to, again, keep his performance mostly subdued and realistic. He’s not some overt monster stomping across everyone’s lives, but an outwardly nice guy with an evil core.

The film’s biggest detriment is that it perhaps takes its serious subject matter a bit too seriously. It’s a very portentous film, in which the restrained performances, gloomy photography, slow-burn pace, and ominous music combine to create an intensely fateful atmosphere. Something is, inevitably, going to happen… eventually… On the one hand, it means that, as Rose gets in deeper, the tension steadily begins to grow. On the other, I’m aware some viewers think it’s so self-serious that it tips over into being laughable. There’s something to be said for varying your tone.

Conversely, I can see why Lawlor & Molloy weren’t in the mood for levity: this is a film about two women, damaged in different ways, who need to come to terms with what has happened to them; both searching for something, even if they don’t know it. You could argue, even, that applies to three people, because Gillen’s character also comes to realise he’s broken — though, in his case, how much sympathy we can feel for him is a whole other discussion. And mixed into all that are major ethical dilemmas: reaching out to birth parents who requested no contact; euthanising healthy animals (if you’re squeamish about injured and dying animals, do not apply); and, by extension, the question of what is appropriate restitution for transgressive behaviour by humans.

Peter the rapist

The latter leads to an ending that I’m not sure how I feel about (massive spoilers follow!) Peter is killed by Ellen, but only because he acquiesces — he accepts what’s happening and allows Ellen to finish it. It’s not exactly suicide (he wouldn’t have done it if Ellen hadn’t turned up and stabbed him with a syringe full of poison), but, by the end, he’s also not protesting. He accepts his guilt and punishment; almost seems to welcome the relief, in fact. If only all rapists were so helpful… and the fact they wouldn’t be is what makes this such a grey area. But then, maybe that’s the point: the film isn’t arguing that this is how things should be done, but asking the question: is this ok? If not, what would be? On another level, from a story structure perspective, it feels somewhat unsatisfying that Rose isn’t involved, after the rest of the film was primarily about her. That might be morally correct (it’s really Ellen’s trauma to deal with), but it feels wrong dramatically to end the film with resolution for Ellen more than for Rose.

Between its heavy issues and unwaveringly doom-laden tone, Rose Plays Julie is not a light viewing experience. If you like the idea of slow-burn dramatic thriller that spends a lot of time focused on people’s still faces as they process information silently and internally, and leaves you with a lot to chew over when it’s done, this is a film for you. If you think that sounds inscrutable or dull, steer clear.

4 out of 5

Rose Plays Julie is streaming on AMPLIFY! until Thursday 12th November. It includes a half-hour Q&A with the directors, actor Orla Brady, and composer Stephen McKeon.

Disclosure: I’m working for AMPLIFY! as part of FilmBath. However, all opinions are my own, and I benefit in no way (financial or otherwise) from you following the links in this post or making purchases.

Room (2015)

2017 #37
Lenny Abrahamson | 118 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Ireland, Canada & UK / English | 15 / R

Room

Oscar statue2016 Academy Awards
4 nominations — 1 win

Winner: Best Actress.
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay.





Inspired by the infamous Josef Fritzl case (but most decidedly not a a direct fictionalise thereof), Room is a drama about a horrific crime — at times it could even be said to be a crime thriller — but it’s not interested in dealing with the usual outcomes of such filmic narratives; namely, justice or revenge (or both). Rather, it has a goal both more realistic and humane: it’s about the victims, and the psychological toll the crime exerts upon them.

It’s told primarily from the point of view of Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a five-year-old boy whose entire world is Room, the small space he lives in with his mother, Ma (Brie Larson). What Jack doesn’t understand, but is quickly obvious to the viewer, is that they’re being held captive by ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers), who visits nightly for… well, you can guess what for. Ma has tried to keep Jack sheltered from the reality of their situation, not telling him properly about the outside world — until one day she hatches a plan for their escape.

Which possibly makes Room sound more action-packed than it is. There’s a sequence of edge-of-your-seat tension in the middle of the film, when Jack and Ma execute their plan, but otherwise this is a very grounded movie. Obviously the situation the characters have found themselves in is pretty extraordinary, but we know these things happen (Fritzl is, sadly, not the only example), and Room is committed to being a plausible exploration of such cases rather than an adrenaline-fuelled Movie version.

In Room, no one can hear you scream

This is a spoiler, really, but it’s also vital to understanding the film’s point and focus: that escape attempt, which occurs more-or-less exactly halfway through the movie, is a success. After seeing the existence Jack and Ma endured inside Room for the first half, the second is about how they adjust and cope to being in the real world after their ordeal. This half-time switch-up is the film’s primary strength. A comment I read online taps into why that’s the case: “At the beginning it was great. I thought it was gonna be a claustrophobic thriller/horror film following the line of others like Cube, Panic Room or even Das Boot… I got the feeling that if they would had escaped later on, the film would have been better.” This person is, of course, wrong, and their own comment demonstrates why. Sure, you could make this kind of story into “a claustrophobic thriller/horror film”, but that would be a genre B-movie and nowhere near the psychological realism (and, by extension, respect for real-life victims of such crimes) that Room is clearly interested in. I have to reluctantly agree that the first half is the more gripping and involving, but the second half — the having to cope with the psychological fallout once their ordeal is over, a very real but much less-seen aspect of crime — is where the meat and heart of Room lies. Or wants to.

The thing is, is it the case that the characters’ situation is inherently emotional, and therefore it’s pretty hard for a film about it to not elicit strong responses, rather than that this film in and of itself is doing anything particularly special? Some would give that an emphatic “yes” — criticism of Lenny Abrahamson’s plain direction abounds. I think that does him a disservice. This is not a showy movie, but nor should it be. Saying it’s no better than a cheap cable TV movie shows a lack of understanding for the quality of being understated, and the difference between that and thoughtless point-and-shoot quickie filmmaking. Indeed, the wiseness of the filmmakers in not giving the story an overly histrionic treatment is one of its biggest assets.

If you're happy and you know it stare blankly into space

Another is the performances. Larson is excellent, full of subtleties even when called on to enact more obvious Dramatic Moments. Ma runs the emotional gamut throughout the movie and Larson negotiates every changing facet with believability. Tremblay isn’t half bad either. I stop short of bigger praise for him because, frankly, I found his character pretty irritating at times, but that might be part of the point so maybe I’m being unfair. While those two are the natural focus, there are effective supporting turns from the likes of Joan Allen as Ma’s mom and Tom McCamus as her new partner, who gets one of the best scenes.

Despite these qualities, I was left wondering how much it had dug into Jack and Ma’s psychology, really? The decision to focus on the kid keeps us removed from Ma at some key points, giving us a snapshot of how she’s been affected rather than a detailed portrait. But we never fully get the psychology of Jack either. On the one hand that’s because, well, he’s only five years old; and on the other it’s because he’s lived his entire life in a situation we can only try to imagine — it’s hard to connect with his very unique worldview. That’s not to say the film fails entirely — there are moments, even whole scenes, where we’re able to access some level of understanding for what these characters have experienced — but as for the totality of it? Well, as I said, it’d be hard for the film to not generate sympathy just given the pure facts of the story it tells, but in terms of going further than that, I just felt there was something missing.

Hammock

Make no mistake, Room is a very good, very affecting film, powered by two strong lead performances, but at the end I felt there was more left to understand about these characters and their experiences.

4 out of 5

The UK network premiere of Room is on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm.

It was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2017 project, which you can read more about here.

Love & Friendship (2016)

2016 #173
Whit Stillman | 94 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.78:1 | Ireland, France & Netherlands / English | U / PG

Love & Friendship

Adapted from Jane Austen’s early novella Lady Susan, writer-director Whit Stillman’s arch comedy concerns one Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a widow with a certain reputation in polite society, which she endeavours to hide from while engaging in matchmaking machinations for both herself and her daughter.

That’s the vague version, anyway. The details of the plot are occasionally a mite too intricate to follow, especially as explanations tend to come after the fact, if they do at all. However, for those prepared to go along with it, the reward is a film that is at times hilariously funny.

Stillman’s writing and direction are both a little mannered, which will surely turn off some viewers, but the real stars are, indeed, the stars. Kate Beckinsale is phenomenal — funny, dry, biting, witty, but also conveying that Susan is making it all up as she goes, despite pretending to be in control. The other standout is Tom Bennett as the dimwitted Sir James Martin. His knowledge of the commandments and opinion of peas are particularly delightful.

Kate Beckinsale & Tom Bennett

Love & Friendship may be something of an acquired taste thanks to its stylistic affectations, but couple that with its wry sense of humour and it makes a likeable change from the heritage ambitions of most Austen adaptations. Perhaps, too, that makes it the Jane Austen film for people who don’t normally like Jane Austen films.

4 out of 5

Brooklyn (2015)

2016 #63
John Crowley | 112 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | UK, Canada & Ireland / English | 12 / PG-13

BAFTABritish Academy Film Awards 2016
6 nominations — 1 win

Winner: Best British Film.
Nominated: Best Leading Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Julie Walters), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hair.


BrooklynAdapted from Colm Tóibín’s award-winning 2009 novel by novelist-turned-screenwriter Nick Hornby and director John Crowley (Boy A, Is Anybody There?), Brooklyn is the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman in 1950s Ireland who leaves behind her mother (Jane Brennan) and older sister (Fiona Glascott) for an exciting new life in New York. Lodging at the boarding house of Mrs Keogh (Julie Walters) with a gaggle of other girls and working in a glamorous department store, Eilis comes out of her shell, and falls for nice Italian-American lad Tony (Emory Cohen). When tragedy calls her back to Ireland, Eilis encounters nice Irish lad Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). Will she stick with her new life, or return home as a new woman?

That’s basically the plot of the whole film, bar the details; but the meat of Brooklyn is in the details, and knowing the shape of the story going in may even work to its benefit — it’s the kind of movie that might not look like it’s ‘about’ all that much. An easy point to pick on would be Eilis’ status as an immigrant, what with works of art about “the immigrant experience” being a definite Thing. There’s an element of that in the film, certainly, but I would say it’s not about anything so worthy-sounding. More, it’s a coming-of-age movie, about leaving home, spending time away, and then coming back to find home is different — not because it’s changed, but because you have. You don’t have to emigrate to understand that feeling — anyone who’s done something like go to uni will surely relate.

Guiding us through this, the film’s heart in every respect, is Saoirse Ronan’s leading performance. I will watch Ronan in essentially anything at this point, both because she seems to choose good material and because, even when she doesn’t, she’s great in it. This is probably her first really mature performance, convincing as a somewhat shy young woman who makes her way out into the world, in the process realising all the confidence she should have in herself. It’s the kind of character and performance that works by accumulation; it’s about the journey, not heavy-handed emoting in a scene or two.

As the family members left behind, Jane Brennan and Fiona Glascott get to give equally subtle performances, conveying reams of emotion in relatively few scenes and with their presence as much as their words. Similarly, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson might have been stranded with no dramatic meat playing Nice Guys, but they each find enough nuance to sustain their roles. It’s always nice to watch a movie that can tell a romantic story without needing to resort to melodramatic histrionics, and Eilis’ choice is all the trickier for the fact that neither reveals a Dark Side or anything so simple. It’s been noted before that Gleeson was in four of the big awards contenders last year, only picking up a few relatively minor nominations himself (at the Saturn Awards, British Independent Film Awards, and Irish Film and Television Awards), but those four roles display his range magnificently. “One to watch” may be an understatement.

John Crowley’s direction is largely unobtrusive, but that is a very different kettle of fish to lacking quality. The subtle changes in framing, lighting, and colour palette as the film moves through its locations and stages helps emphasise how Eilis is changing, and how the world changes in her perceptions, too. It makes the story’s times and places look beautiful without quite slipping into picture-postcard rose-tinted-memories territory.

Brooklyn is a deceptively simple film that might be easy to dismiss as a slight romantic drama with no real stakes, but I think that would be to do it a disservice. It is fairly subtle and largely gentle (the odd shocking development aside), but it amasses a wealth of feeling and personal development that builds, not to a crescendo, but to a point of emotional understanding.

4 out of 5

Brooklyn is available on Netflix UK as of yesterday.

Calvary (2014)

2016 #91
John Michael McDonagh | 101 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Ireland & UK / English | 15 / R

From the director of In Bruges’ older brother (who, in fairness, made a name for himself with 2011 comedy The Guard, which I’ve still not got round to) comes this dark (very dark) comedy drama — with emphasis on the latter, I suppose, but it is very funny along the way.

Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, The Guard) stars as Father James, a priest in a small Irish town. One day at confession he’s told he is going to be murdered. Not for anything he did wrong, but precisely the opposite — because he is a good priest. The mysterious threatener gives him a week to get his affairs in order. Over the next seven days, we follow James as he interacts with his characterful parishioners, and are led to ponder which of them might be the would-be assassin, especially as so many seem cynical and nasty. All the while, James struggles internally with what is the right thing to do.

That’s the story of Calvary, at any rate, but it’s fairly clear that it’s about something more. What exactly that is, however, is a matter of debate. Could it be an apologia for the church and the wrongs it has inflicted in living memory? It certainly leans into those issues: without spoiling anything, the inciting incident is related to historic abuse, but the film is showing that priests aren’t all like that — that some people in the church are actually good, or at least as good as any of the rest of us — which I should imagine is true. That doesn’t make the film an apology, nor an excuse, but does raise a point: should the innocent be blamed for the wrongdoings of the guilty just because they share a belief? I think most rational people would agree they should not. Nonetheless, I’ve read at least one commenter, who I’m presuming was a hardened atheist, castigate the film for daring to feature a good priest, as if the very concept of one existing was a heinous and offensive suggestion. Conversely, in the special features Chris O’Dowd speaks of his initial wariness that this was going to be another “bad priest” movie, and how that doesn’t align with his personal experience of the clergy.

So could it, instead, merely be a snapshot of Irish society, in particular its current relationship with the church? Surely that’s part of what’s in play, with the cynical, dismissive, teasing, sometimes hateful attitudes of the parishioners surely no coincidence. Some viewers have certainly taken this as the film’s primary talking point, and some have been less than impressed that it doesn’t align with their view of modern Ireland. (I’m in no position to comment.) Neither of these feel like they’re getting at the totality of what it’s saying, though.

Nonetheless, the way the film presents itself is not at fault. The acting is strong across the board, none more so than Gleeson. He brings all kinds of facets to a man who could’ve been a blank page on which to project the other colourful characters, and he truthfully conveys major character moments and changes of direction without the need for dialogue. O’Dowd surprises in a rare non-comedic role, while further able support comes from recognisable faces like Kelly Reilly (as James’ troubled daughter), Dylan Moran (as a nouveau riche dick) , Marie-Josée Croze (as a bereaved holidaymaker), M. Emmet Walsh (as an ageing author), and — for just one scene, but a good one — Domhnall Gleeson (you can discover what he is when you watch it). And no offence to Aidan Gillen, but his smarmy atheist doctor feels like the kind of part he always plays.

That’s not to exclude the less familiar names, some of whom deliver many of the biggest laughs, like Killian Scott (as a slightly worrying simpleton), David Wilmot (as James’ naïve fellow clergyman), and Owen Sharpe (as a Brooklyn-accented promiscuous gay) — though if you watch Ripper Street, you may have seen a couple of them in quite different guises. And though it may be a cliché, McDonagh has successfully made the location a character, too: the towering mountain, an accidental discovery once on location, adds the looming presence the director hoped it would.

Calvary may in fact be a great film, if only I could put my finger on what I think it’s really trying to get at, which remains frustratingly out of my reach, at least for now. However, I will say it’s a very good one, and anyone who likes a character-driven drama scattered with dark but hilarious humour would do well to seek it out.

4 out of 5

Calvary is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK as of yesterday.

Song of the Sea (2014)

2015 #94
Tomm Moore | 94 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg & France / English | PG / PG

Song of the SeaThe second feature from director Tomm Moore and his pan-European team of animators (after the excellent, Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells) sees ten-year-old Ben (voiced by Moone Boy’s David Rawle) growing up in a lighthouse off the coast of Ireland, with just his dad (Brendan Gleeson), his dog and best friend Cú, and his mute little sister Saoirse, after their mother disappeared on the night Saoirse was born. When Saoirse discovers a coat that turns her into a seal (as you do — this doesn’t come as out-of-the-blue in the film as I’ve made it here) and she washes up on the beach, their visiting grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) insists she takes the kids to Dublin for a better life. Less than impressed at having to desert his father, his home, and most especially his dog, Ben escapes and, with Saoirse in tow, sets off to find his way home. However, it soon becomes apparent that Saoirse’s new-found transformative skills are of greater importance, and the survival of the entirety of Irish folkloric creatures depends on her getting home in time. Unfortunately, the witch Macha and her owl minions have other ideas…

There are quite a few different elements in the mix with Song of the Sea, as you can probably tell from that overlong plot description. On the surface, it’s an adventure story, as Ben and Saoirse — soon joined by Cú, too — trek across Ireland encountering various creatures and obstacles. It’s also a fantasy, thanks to said creatures, reconfiguring folk legends into a modern context where they exist on the periphery of the world, visible if only people would look. That’s one subtext. Other prominent ones include issues of grief and family: Ben has a realistically fractious sibling relationship with his sister, Happy families?but the motivator for that is clearly resentment towards her for appearing the night his beloved mother left. Their father, too, is hamstrung by his grief, struggling to move on from his wife’s disappearance and fully engage with the world. His kids are his only connection, Saoirse in particular, but his mother makes him realise that clinging to them is damaging their lives too… or is it?

This depth of emotion and, if you like, thematic consideration probably marks Song of the Sea out over The Secret of Kells in some respects. Certainly, there seems to be a broad understanding that this is the better film, if only by a half-step; a more mature, complex work. I’ll be the dissenting voice, though, because while I did like Song of the Sea, I didn’t think it was as strong an overall experience as Kells. The problem perhaps lies in its episodic structure, which pings us from encounter to encounter. They’re connected but also self-contained, and at times it feels like there’s another one before we can get to the climax. For me, a bit of added speed would have helped things: kicking into gear faster (the first act goes on a little too long), trimming back each episode; overall, managing to speed the film up by maybe ten minutes would be to its benefit.

Maybe I’m wrong, though. There’s nothing specific that needs to be lost, no one scene that drags, just a sense that things could get a wriggle on. Perhaps in this respect the film would better reward repeated viewings? The realistic, thoughtful depiction of the main characters; the well-imagined, history-dense world; the weighty themes that are handled with a gentle touch — Raised by owlsall are factors that can, and do, elevate the film. Don’t get me wrong: this is a cut above your average animated adventure. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as The Secret of Kells.

Talking of thematic depth, however, this interview with Moore from The Telegraph is a must-read. To pull a particular highlight:

Moore wanted to stay true to the melancholic selkie myths. In the end, a series of test-screenings with his primary schoolteacher wife’s class helped him find the sweet spot.

“Those kids are way more intelligent than adult audiences,” he explains. The notes that older viewers gave him, he says, all tried to pinpoint flaws in the film’s dream logic: “They thought they could outwit the story, rather than go along with it.”

Moore’s young test audience, on the other hand, was more concerned with the relationships, and as a result of their feedback – they thought an exchange in which Ben tells his sister he hates her overstepped the mark, for instance – he dialled certain scenes down a bit. That’s a preteen audience asking for more subtlety.

Lesson: we train viewers to be less-intelligent film-viewing adults with dumbed-down kids’ movies. Anyway:

Storybook styleFor more positives, Song of the Sea’s animation and design is at least as strong as it was in Moore’s previous film. There’s the ‘house style’ flattened, animated storybook look; a description which could sound like criticism but absolutely is not. Some very beautiful scenes are evoked, meaning that at the very least there’s always imagery to tide you over. I’d list some favourites, but we’d be talking about most of the film. That said, the depiction of a run-down, smoggy Dublin stands out as something different from the countryside idylls of Kells and the rest of the locales in Song of the Sea, but it’s not exactly “beautiful”. Rather, look to the island home of our heroes, a tall rock surrounded by the blue sea; the home of the glowing-eyed long-haired Seanachai (the moment when it suddenly turns around in the montage after Saoirse uses her coat for the first time is my favourite shot in the film, a little sliver of fantasy imagery that magnificently teases what’s to come); or the small sanctuary surrounded by a field of stinging nettles — again, a kind of gentle, on-the-edge-of-the-real-world fantasy that quite appeals to me. The fact the countryside is littered with half-hidden stone figures, which we know to be frozen magical begins, is another nice touch; especially as they’re often surrounded by human litter, the analogy (as I see it) being both that people exist around them but don’t even see them, and also that, presumably through our modern disbelief, we’ve thrown these legends out with our trash.

Selkie Saoirse in the SeaEven as I write, I’m talking myself round to liking Song of the Sea even more than I did on first viewing — and that was quite a lot, albeit coloured by my perception that I didn’t like it as much as The Secret of Kells. If you enjoyed Moore’s earlier film, this unquestionably merits seeking out (if you haven’t already, of course; I mean, I did). If you haven’t seen Kells, well, you’ve so far missed a treat; and now you’re missing two.

4 out of 5

Song of the Sea is in UK cinemas from today.

The Secret of Kells (2009)

2014 #47
Tomm Moore | 79 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | France, Belgium & Ireland / English | PG

The Secret of KellsYou can lament the quality of Oscar voters’ choices all you want, but if it wasn’t for their 2010 Best Animated Feature nominations I’m not sure many would have heard of this Celtic gem.

Based on the true story of the creation of the Book of Kells, albeit with a fantastical spin involving forest spirits, the film’s most striking element is its animation style: clean and modern, but inspired by the famed illustrations in the original illuminated manuscript. The result is endlessly beautiful.

In storytelling terms, the tone has more in common with the lyricism of Studio Ghibli-like anime than Disney’s Broadway musicals or most other Pixar-wannabe Western animation. Anyone worried about it being too gentle will enjoy the Sturm und Drang of some marauding vikings.

With a magical story and gorgeous animation, we should all thank Oscar for bringing this to our attention.

5 out of 5

Patriot Games (1992)

2014 #53
Phillip Noyce | 112 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Patriot GamesA sequel to The Hunt for Red October in technicalities only (it’s another Jack Ryan adaptation, but he’s been recast; only one actor returns, in fact), Patriot Games is another political/espionage thriller from the pen of Tom Clancy.

On a working holiday in the UK, former CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) coincidentally thwarts an IRA assassination attempt on members of the royal family, killing one of the assailants. Also among the terrorists was the dead one’s brother (Sean Bean), who sets off on some new terrorising plot that ultimately leads him to the US, where he plans revenge…

That’s more or less a summary, anyway, because Patriot Games is a sprawling tale. Although most of the major characters start off connected by that failed assassination, they soon splinter to go about their business in unconnected sequences, which finally come back together towards the end. To describe it as “novelistic” might be obvious, considering it’s based on a novel, but it’s not been streamlined for the big screen. The 112-minute runtime (PAL) looks speedy by today’s standards, when every blockbuster comfortably passes two hours, but it’s a lengthy narrative from a time when big movies were less overblown and got on with things — tell this amount of story today and you’d probably pass the three-hour mark.

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like Patriot Games has. Progressing multiple separate narratives gives a disjointed feel, leaving the viewer waiting for it to all tie together in some way. The storytelling is fitfully slow and kind of baggy, lacking pace. Oirish, to be sureThere’s a nasty synth score, just to make things drag more. There are some moments of brilliance though, not least the beautifully-shot boat chase climax. There’s also the dubious joy of seeing Sheffield’s most famous son, Sean Bean, doing an Irish accent. Co-terrorist Polly Walker is English though — twist! Not that her subplot really goes anywhere. Possibly she just couldn’t do the accent.

Amusement comes unintentionally, and mainly thanks to its depiction of the Irish characters. One’s called Paddy O’Neill. No, really. Another seems to spend his time just sat around watching Clannad videos.

Given its pedigree you’d expect Patriot Games to be a classic ’90s thriller. I’ve always been a bit surprised that it’s often around, but not more talked about. Now that I’ve seen it, I see why. Disappointing.

3 out of 5

Patriot Games is on More4 tonight at 9pm. The most recent Jack Ryan movie, Shadow Recruit, is available on Now TV now and premieres on Sky Movies Premiere this Friday.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the second Harrison Ford-starring Jack Ryan adaptation, Clear and Present Danger.

Odd Man Out (1947)

2010 #115
Carol Reed | 111 mins | TV | PG

It may be a bit of a cop out to begin a review by pointing you to another, but I must recommend Colin’s heartfelt appreciation at Ride the High Country. It certainly inspired me to watch the film, which had been sat on my V+ box for over a year. As you’re going to read that (assuming you haven’t already), I’ll just offer a couple of observations I jotted down.

The consciously episodic story, screenwritten by R.C. Sherriff, author of the exceptional World War One play Journey’s End, presents us with an array of characters. James Mason is ostensibly the star, but he spends much of the film in a daze, drifting from group to group. And that’s fine — it leaves the way open for other characters to shine. For instance I liked the driver, Pat, played by Cyril Cusack. My notes don’t say why, but I thought his character was rather good — not a good guy, perhaps, but a good character. The real star, if anyone, is Kathleen played by Kathleen Ryan, who comes into her own during the film’s final act and its conclusion. I’d throw an adjective in front of “conclusion”, but perhaps you should discover it for yourself.

This episodic structure does make for some lengthy, perhaps even borderline dull, asides. I could do without F.J. McCormick’s Shell and, especially, Robert Newton’s Lukey. (You’ll also note Newton’s performance is criticised in Colin’s piece so, in aid of not sounding like I’m too easily influenced, I’d like to point out I didn’t make the connection between his comments and my own notes on Newton until afterwards.) Shell and Lukey have a bit of a point in the end, but I didn’t enjoy getting through them in comparison to the rest of the film.

What the structure really facilitates is the depiction of a cross-section of Northern Irish life, and particularly their reaction to “the organisation” — it doesn’t take a genius to guess what that means. As the opening scroll said, this is indeed concerned “only with the conflict in the hearts of the people when they become unexpectedly involved”, but by leaving out detail of the politically contentious background to the unrest, it perhaps robs the characters’ indecision of any basis. All bar a couple of exceptions fall into the “don’t want to pick a side, don’t want to get involved” camp, foisting Johnny out of anything to do with them ASAP, but at least it suggests such a view was widespread across people of all backgrounds.

The score, by William Alwyn, is really nice, particularly in certain places — for example when it begins to snow and Johnny wanders the streets, or at its most effective during the haunting climax, as Kathleen hauls a near-dead Johnny through the falling snow towards the safety of the shipyard as the police finally close in.

My notes also say “discuss the use of the kids? And Johnny’s visions?” I’m afraid to say I forget why. Comments on these elements are welcomed.

I hesitate to make a comparison between Odd Man Out and The Third Man, director Carol Reed’s more famous film noir, because I’ve not seen the latter for far too long; but I imagine this holds its own, because it’s certainly an engaging and suitably unusual entry in the genre.

4 out of 5