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Robert Redford’s cinematic swan-song The Old Man & the Gun is a thoroughly nice film, if not a great one, writes MacDara Conroy

Robert Redford’s silver screen swan-song is one that seems purposefully engineered by its director David Lowery (A Ghost Story) to bring the legend’s career full circle, with a cheeky title card (‘This story, also, is mostly true’) being only the first echo of the Western crime caper that made his name back in 1969 — and indeed of his career ever since.

The Old Man & the Gun is ostensibly a biopic of Forrest Tucker, the subject of an article in The New Yorker that mythologised the lifelong criminal and his astounding prison escape attempts over the decades. You wouldn’t really know that going in cold, however, as the story is presented much more like a light-hearted redo of David Mackenzie’s neo-noir Hell or High Water. In place of two grizzled brothers robbing banks to pay off the mortgage on their ranch, we get Redford as a dapper Southern gentleman who charms his way to thousands of ill-gotten dollars, not out of any sense of moral outrage against the banking system or a Robin Hood complex or some such greater theme, but simply because he can, and he’s very good at it. …


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Accusations of sexism at Pixar undermine Incredibles 2’s feminist message, writes MacDara Conroy

It’s not a great time for Pixar, to say the least. In the wake of division head John Lasseter being outed by way of the #MeToo movement over years of ’inappropriate behaviour’, a former employee of the Disney animation studio added to the dumpster fire. Her description of a depressingly sexist work environment suggests Lasseter was just the tip (pun intended) of a misogynistic dickberg (a dickberg is an iceberg made of dicks).

But I’m supposed to be reviewing the new Pixar movie here, not a corporate culture, even if said movie is a product of said culture and deserves to be evaluated in that very context. How seriously, after all, are we to take Incredibles 2’s patina of progressivism when we have a better (or worse) idea of what some of those who brought it to the screen are actually like? …


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Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik returns with a different kind of backwoods family drama in Leave No Trace, writes MacDara Conroy

Eight years after Winter’s Bone flung Jennifer Lawrence into the limelight, director Debra Granik returns with another kind of backwoods family drama, lighting on her recurring themes of drug dependency and living against the grain, and anchored by another young woman’s sublime performance as an anti-ingenue. In other words, it’s impossible to evaluate Leave No Trace in a bubble, though it is clear from the outset that this and its predecessor are opposite in tone.

Where a major thread of Winter’s Bone was familial abandonment, the beating heart of Leave No Trace (adapted from Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment by Granik and regular collaborator Anne Rosellini) is the profound relationship between grizzled former soldier Will (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water) and his coming-of-age daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, a Kiwi you might have seen on Shortland Street), who eke out a virtually invisible existence in an Oregon pine forest, living off the land, in harmony with nature. …


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The Breadwinner is a weighty story but a feast for the senses, says MacDara Conroy

After years of cynical, pandering rubbish cooked up for commercial interests over critical acclaim, Irish cinema has been giving it socks as of late — and animation has been a particularly consistent strand. Since the 2001 Oscar nomination for Brown Bag Films’ Give Up Yer Aul Sins, the gauntlet was picked up by Kilkenny-based studio Cartoon Saloon, whose previous features The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea spun Irish folklore into colourful, enchanting stories on a critical par with the famed Studio Ghibli’s fare.

However, Cartoon Saloon’s latest film, The Breadwinner, is something different, more along the lines of the short segment it produced for the 2014 adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. The setting is central Asia, a long way from Ireland; the voice cast are for the most part ethnic unknowns. …


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‘The plot is stripped to the bone, and it’s all in the execution’ — MacDara Conroy on Lynne Ramsay’s superlative thriller You Were Never Really Here

Violence is a hallmark in the work of director Lynne Ramsay, whether it’s the metaphorical class violence of her debut Ratcatcher, or the more explicit violence of mass murder and its aftermath in We Need to Talk About Kevin, her version of Lionel Shriver’s Orange Prize winning novel. Seven years since that critical hit, and following some time in the cinematic wilderness, Ramsay returns with a sharper focus and her most direct meditation on violence yet in You Were Never Really Here, a film lauded at Cannes last summer before it was even finished. And with good reason.

Adapting Jonathan Ames’ neo-noir novella about a combat wounded veteran caught up in a child sex trafficking nightmare, Ramsay deftly weaves what’s on the surface a pulpy exploitation story with cutting commentary on the evil that men do, and a stream-of-consciousness dream logic that blessedly doesn’t work at odds with the cold realism of the world at hand. Where Ratcatcher was overt in its freedom symbolism, Morvern Callar was about the rewriting of the self, and We Need to Talk About Kevin dealt in restrained but heightened moods and caricatures of evil, You Were Never Really Here feels more grounded in comparison, despite the slow trickle of detail, especially about our main protagonist. …


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Jennifer Lawrence’s wings are clipped in the lurid but tedious spy drama Red Sparrow, says MacDara Conroy

Red Sparrow trailer

In the era of the capable action heroine — think the gender-swapped John Wick shenanigans of Atomic Blonde, or Wonder Woman storming the box office — the flight of fancy Red Sparrow feels like a relic from an older time, with Jennifer Lawrence as a femme fatale using her seductive wiles to get results. Not exactly a calling card for the Time’s Up movement, is it?

Francis Lawrence (no relation), who directed J-Law in the last three instalments of the Hunger Games series, puts his leading lady in a very different but equally implausible predicament in this adaptation of ex-CIA man Jason Matthews’ spy novel. Dominika (Lawrence) is a prima ballerina whose career at the Bolshoi is cut short by a broken leg; shades of Tonya Harding are hard to miss. But don’t fear, as creepy uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), a top spook in the SVR, comes along with a proposition: assist in a mission to steal info from a diplomat, or risk losing her dingy flat and home care for her disabled mother (Joely Richardson). …


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There’s something fishy about woman-meets-gillman romance fantasy The Shape of Water, says MacDara Conroy

The Shape of Water

That’s some very canny marketing, I must say, releasing Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water on Valentine’s Day for the Irish and British markets and capitalising on its positioning for awards season — long since its original US release in early December — as a tale of star-crossed romance. It’s a neat distraction from the notion that what we have here is much more a fairytale fantasy than any conventional love story; its primary characters are, after all, a mute woman and a humanoid frog who is definitely not the Creature from the Black Lagoon. …


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Political journalism gets the Spielberg treatment in The Post, writes MacDara Conroy

That The Post is Steven Spielberg’s spiritual prequel to All The President’s Men is made plain by its final few moments, which all but recreate the opening scenes of Alan J Pakula’s 1970s classic political thriller. (That’s not a spoiler, unless you consider history one big spoiler.) While no match for tone — we’ll get to that in a minute — it’s a blessed relief that Spielberg’s notion of a prequel is a damn sight more interesting than that of his friend George Lucas, so you can breathe a sigh of relief there.

That’s not to say it doesn’t comprise a lot of people in rooms talking, however. The Post doesn’t concern itself as much with the dogged determination of its reporters chasing a major story with national ramifications as it does with the editors and executives in charge and the difficult decisions they face: print or be damned, or print and be damned. It’s too easy to compare with The West Wing (walk-and-talk tracking shots and the presence of Bradley Whitford don’t help) but Sorkinesque is a fair description for the manner in which Spielberg and Josh Singer (a West Wing alum who also wrote 2016’s Spotlight) treat Liz Hannah’s screenplay. …


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Barbed black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is “a film better thought or talked about than a story worth feeling”, says MacDara Conroy

Martin McDonagh, the Anglo-Irish David Mamet, will be taking the Pledge to his trophy cabinet this week after his third film, with the mouthful of a title Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, cleaned up at last weekend’s Golden Globes. Eschewing the odd-couple verbal sparring of In Bruges and the acerbic Hollywood satire of Seven Psychopaths for the darkness of small-town America — Coen Brothers territory, more or less, or Flannery O’Connor — Three Billboards seems both perfectly suited for awards season, and a total outlier in its bleak black comedy being pitched presumably a little too dark for American tastes. …


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True-life kidnap drama All the Money in the World is “two distinct films fighting for attention”, says MacDara Conroy

It would be too easy to peg All the Money in the World as That Film Reshot To Excise Kevin Spacey, though that is exactly what it is. With its release imminent as the news broke of sexual assault allegations against its now disgraced (and former) leading man, it was all but inevitable that something would have to be done. In any other circumstances that would mean pushing back the release date, or even shelving the project till a solution could be found. But on the eve of awards season, more drastic measures were required.

Hence, Christopher Plummer was swiftly drafted for a brisk few weeks of reshoots that wrapped literally a month before the final production was screened for the press. That has to be some kind of record, and one that cynical ol’ me thinks might be a convenient distraction from the reason it was needed in the first place. Director Ridley Scott can say all he likes that Plummer was always his first choice for the role, but we all know hands were forced and contingency plans were enacted. …

About

MacDara Conroy

Film & music writer, production journo, mediavore and wrestling geek. I'm only a skeleton; my body is a series of points, with no height, length or width

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