Bill & Ted Face the Music

Review by Seirce Mhac Conghail

As the last in a series which began in the 80s, Bill & Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot, 2020) is as goofy, whacky, and hyperactive as any of the previous movies. Yet in this idiot comedy, the idiots have to wise up. The film finds them as middle-aged, beer-bellied has-beens; their marriages are floundering and they are totally failing in their prophetic mission to unite the world through a single song. When pressed to perform the song before the imminent collapse of all reality, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) take off through time to track down their future selves and find it, as it has never been written. Their daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), concurrently rocket through time to enlist a band of the greatest musicians to help their fathers. On the way they meet Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Kid Cudi (himself), and reenlist Death himself (William Sadler) as their hooded bassist. 

This film includes some good old new-fashioned values, with optimism, kindness and even – if possible – a type of delicacy. 

Billie and Thea are charming additions; as near-mirrors of their clownish fathers, they nevertheless provide the freshness necessary when translating an older franchise to 2020. This film has the same writers as the original, which is impressive given its smooth adaption to a totally different era. The challenge is a particularly daunting one. For films a generation apart, slacker heroes whose speech is littered with ‘bro’, ‘dude’, and ‘Van Halen’, are merely a superficial difference. Many mainstream values have fundamentally changed since the 1980s, and the balance has been incrementally shifting over recent years with blockbusters now having a generally more liberal approach when it comes to representation and morals in films. The word incrementally should again be stressed here. Yet this film includes some good old new-fashioned values, with optimism, kindness and even – if possible – a type of delicacy. 

On paper, Bill & Ted Face the Music is certainly another example of Hollywood’s obsession with franchise. The American film industry is currently churning out content aimed at ensnaring loyalty from viewers, be that from nostalgic remakes, reboots, or endless sagas. It’s a trend that bears no sign of elapsing, despite many of these films ultimately falling flat under the open desire for profit over content. Bill & Ted Face the Music is not such a film. While certainly part of a franchise, it never loses sight of its heart: adventure, absurdity, and most importantly, to “be excellent to each other.”


I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Review by James McCleary

In a year as violently unprecedented as 2020, it is frankly absurd to note the number of films that, seemingly out of sheer coincidence, have proven to mirror the ideas, trends and imagery of this historic pandemic. Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020) frames its protagonists as immobile and mask-clad, trapped within a world suffering from apocalyptic regression, while The New Mutants (Josh Boone, 2020), filmed all the way back in 2017, traps its cast of super-humans within the invisible walls of an institution, suffocating their abilities for their own prescribed safety. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020) takes these inexplicably familiar parallels to new heights however, constructing over its lengthy runtime an exhausting, suffocating quarantine nightmare that will likely hit a bit too close to home for some. Based on a synonymous short story written by Iain Reid in 2016, the film uses the framing device of an extended conversation between Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley), whose name endures frequent changes as the narrative reveals more of its secrets, as they travel along an icy road to meet Jake’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis, both doing their gamely best to twist Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000) into something abhorrently grotesque). 

The film is first and foremost a showcase for its four outgoing, off-beat stars (there is a reason why three of the four leads have starred in seasons of Fargo), essentially taking the form of a series of short plays of roughly thirty minutes a piece rather than anything more narratively conventional, and allowing them to feed off of one another’s eccentricities. Collette, Plemons and especially Thewlis are all terrific in their respective roles, but it is unmistakably Buckley who steals every scene for herself, playing an intelligent woman amongst animals who, with every beat, line and inflection, gradually unravels and descends into claustrophobic madness at their mercy. 

That is not to say that Kaufman does anything but his best work from the relative comfort of his director’s chair however, with his most noteworthy achievement being the intricate, surgical skill with which he blocks his actors within these theatrical set-pieces, refusing to let so much as a single shot go to waste without revealing something unspoken about one, two or all of his key players. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is without question a horror film at its core, but rather than ever frighten his audience with tricks or bangs, Kaufman simply recognises the inherent terror of lockdown without hope of escape, and emphasises that claustrophobia with every lingering frame and sudden cut. The film’s cast are literally and figuratively trapped in one another’s company, clinging only to the faintest, most inconceivable dreams of escape. This is an upsetting, gruelling film at the best of times; a far cry from the more lyrical absurdism of Kaufman’s earlier works, but the worldly conditions surrounding its release only serve to amplify the horror. 

This is an upsetting, gruelling film at the best of times; a far cry from the more lyrical absurdism of Kaufman’s earlier works.

The ending is likely to polarise viewers, straying a delicate line between empowering and criticising the toxic male perspective at its core without ever taking a definitive stance, which is all the more troubling upon learning that Kaufman’s script strays considerably from the source material. It is clear that the film has no interest in offering any sort of relief for the traumas inflicted on his audience, most of whom are likely already familiar with the pains explored in his film. It is in many regards an endurance test, turning masterful actors into torturers wielding black comedy and misogynistic condescension as their weapons of choice, and mileage will vary on whether the melancholic ending can justify the preceding two hours and thirteen minutes spent submerged in this hellish mirror-realm. That being, said, there is no question as to the impressive talent and precision with which I’m Thinking of Ending Things was crafted. This is easily one of the year’s most fascinating films, in no small part due to its impossible prescience, and for those with the stomachs for its distressing, starkly-real capacity to reflect our modern condition, I would argue that, love it or hate it, this is an experiment worth your curiosity. What else are you gonna do? 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix now.

Mark Cousins: Women Make Film

Article by Niamh Muldowney

29th of February 2020, the evening the first case of Covid-19 in Ireland would be announced. But, that morning, director Mark Cousins was in town to introduce his latest film, Women Make Film, at the Dublin International Film Festival. Two other film students from Trinity, Giorgiomaria Cornelio and Markéta Ní Eithir, and I sat in on the introduction to the fourteen-hour-long film and, afterwards, had the opportunity to pick Cousins’ brain on the documentary and the state of the film industry in general.

Markéta Ní Eithir: Watching the film, it struck me that it’s kind of an education and maybe even a guide to filmmaking. To what extent was this the aim when making it?

Mark Cousins: I wanted to capture that feeling that we filmmakers have when we’re sitting having pizza together, and you say: “see that shot from Scorsese?” The practical talk of how you do something, you know? That’s what filmmakers ask for, like: “God I have to shoot a sex scene tomorrow, how do I do that? What are the great sex scenes?” It’s quite practical. The original title for this film wasn’t Women Make Film, I was going to call it An Academy of Venus, so it was going to be a film school, an academy, but where all the teachers were women. If we had called it that, it would’ve been a clear answer to your question. Yes, it has got an aim, not educational in an academic sense, but as a learning tool, like a toolbox.

MNE: When making it, was there something that surprised you the most or was really new for you?

MC:  Yes, I discovered filmmakers I didn’t know! For example, in Sri Lanka, I did not know the work of Sumitra Peries, who’s been making masterpieces from the seventies. She’s still alive. She’s eighty-six and I’ve been in contact with her and I’ve been in tears. When I first sent her an email, she said: “I hadn’t heard from anyone in the UK in, I think, thirty years.” There’s a forgottenness, you know. If we want to change the conversation about cinema with this film, if we want to sort of shock, to defibrillate people into knowing who these great directors are, we need to know them and we need to talk about them in the same breath as we’re talking about the great male directors.

MNE: On distribution, I know that one of your previous films, The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), was screened on television as one-hour-long episodes. Is there a plan to do this with this film?

MC: This has sold all over the world – every European country, Chinese TV, Indian TV, Russian TV – so it’s going to be seen globally, which is really good! I, on purpose, don’t specify how I would like it to be shown so people can watch it in one-hour episodes on TV or they can watch 20 minutes a night if they want. This festival is showing nine hours today which is “woah!” and some festivals are doing a single fourteen-hour event where you can drop in and out, almost like you would see in a gallery. I think anything goes! I’m really interested in the tone of a film, and the tone of this film tries to be quite hypnotic. It’s very intense and so people can then choose to be hypnotised for five minutes or five hours. I don’t mind if you watch the ending first, or re-watch bits, mess it all up!  Really fuck with the structure!

Niamh Muldowney: As you mention, the structure is very non-traditional. Would you like to elaborate on the non-chronological approach the film takes to film history?

MC: It was on purpose; I didn’t want to do a chronological structure. I’ve done that in some of my other work and this time I thought what’s lovely is if you choose a theme like work and then you put all these clips together from different parts of the world and different periods, from silent periods to really recently, and the sort of electricity, the sparks that jump between the clips are what you’re looking for. I think, in this case, with a chronological structure there would’ve been sparse periods until the 60s and then the 70s. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do. But also, this is only one voice. Obviously, it’s quite an unusual film and other people can tell the stories in more conventional and chronological ways.

NM: Did the #MeToo movement have an impact on the production of this film? And, if so, can we redeem the past? Can we redeem these female filmmakers without victimising them?

MC: We started this years before #MeToo, years before Weinstein and, you can imagine, there was a certain pressure on me to mention Weinstein in this and I thought, “No way!” That would poison this! This is a joyous piece of work, a celebratory piece of work. This is about enriching the language of cinema. I absolutely agree with the activists that are marching, demonstrating, and charging sex abusers but you’re right to say that, if we don’t get to know these women’s names, if the names Binka Zhelyazkova or María Luisa Bemberg are not mentioned by cinephiles in five years’ time, we will have failed.

We cannot blame the industry. The number of people [who] say “it’s so hard to see this stuff,” but a lot of this is on YouTube! And the people who say the research must’ve been incredible, you know what the research involved? I searched on Google “great female filmmakers from…” and then I just started putting countries like Venezuela or Colombia. That took seconds to do for each country and the list went on and on and on.

I’ve been interviewed by a lot of feminist filmmakers, male and female, who’ve said: “I’ve never heard of that,” and I’ve said to them: “partly, that’s your fault.” Yes, we can blame the industry but it’s partly your fault that you’re not curious enough. If you haven’t heard of a great female filmmaker from Venezuela, does that mean there isn’t one? No, it means you haven’t looked! The Marie Curie instinct is to think it must be out there. She thought radium was out there, so she kept looking, and looking, and looking, and then she found it. This is what happened here. I thought there must be a great female Sri Lankan filmmaker and there was! There must be more from Senegal, from Morocco, from Mauritania, from Colombia, from Mexico, there must be more! Even the really macho countries, like Spain, had the great filmmaker Ana Mariscal in the 50s! My point is, we have to blame ourselves. We can’t point the finger to the industry because the industry doesn’t give a fuck. It wants to make money so, at some point, we have to take responsibility and think “ok we’re gonna wake up.”

Giorgiomaria Cornelio: Because there is a tendency to reevaluate history through a political lens, which is a risk when educating ourselves, how can we avoid an ignorance of female filmmakers because of a political frame? Thinking specifically of Leni Riefenstahl or the #MeToo movement.

MC: I am a political human being, my politics are left of centre, but I really agree with your question and that is a difficult point. Leni Riefenstahl is in this film. I would not want her work shown without an introduction because there could be people in the audience that don’t know that she actually used people who were from concentration camps in her films, in particular that film, Tiefland. I think it’s really hard to show some of Polanski’s films now without some kind of introduction but I think that we should still show the work. I think for films that were either made by people who have committed sex crimes or abused people in the process of making the film, we need to tell the audience that, to make sure that isn’t forgotten. That’s my answer. It’s not a great answer but it’s the best that I can come up with for that problem.

MNE: Lastly, could you tell us a bit more about the connection of the road movie element of the film with the filmmaking?

MK: So, I needed something to break up the clips. It was too intense going clip to clip to clip to clip and I love just looking out the front of a car. For decades, I’ve been filming looking out of the front of cars when I travel around. Film should feel passionately global. You should see many countries and, so, that was why I used those forward moving shots. However, as you’ll know if you’ve got to the end of the film, [at] the very last shot we arrive at the grave of Alice Guy-Blaché, so the whole film has basically been a road trip to lay flowers at the grave of Alice Guy-Blaché. I wanted to do something really touching at the end to reward people and when we showed it in Toronto there was a lot of crying at the end because it is so moving and so exhausting to get to the end and realise it is all basically a thank you to Alice Guy-Blaché.

Both Giorgiomaria Cornelio and Markéte Ní Eithir have written on this interview, which can be found at https://www.doppiozero.com/materiali/laccademia-di-venere and http://trinitynews.ie/2020/08/women-make-film/

Women Make Films Will be broadcast as weekly episodes on TCM starting September 1st or can be rented and streamed from Amazon or iTunes. It is also currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.

Tenet

Review by Joey Fanthom

“Don’t try to understand. Just do.” This is a line delivered early in Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Tenet, by Clemence Poesy’s scientist as she introduces the concept of ‘inversion’ to John David Washington’s unnamed protagonist. It is a concept that seems to be some variation on time travel where, once someone has undergone inversion, they create a second iteration of themselves that, to someone in the normal plane of existence, looks like they’re moving backwards – I think. If you replace the word “do” with the word “watch” in Poesy’s line, that is probably the best way to experience the film. Despite having a seemingly endless array of expository scenes in which ‘inversion’ is explained to both the protagonist and the audience, there are still times where the internal logic of the concept – and thus the film as a whole – appears to go out the window completely. Nolan’s script is muddled and frantic, moving from place to place at breakneck speed at times, then screeching to a halt at others – a frustrating element in a film that concentrates so much on temporality. 

With the likes of Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014), Nolan established himself as the thinking man’s blockbuster filmmaker – combining fun, big-budget action with a clever, mind-bending idea. He attempts to uphold that reputation here but the film struggles to meet either criteria. As I have mentioned already, the premise of the film is confusing and quite poorly executed while the action sequences are not that thrilling either – especially not when you have to watch most of them twice. Yes, the majority of the set-pieces are presented twice, once in regular time, then again from an ‘inverted’ perspective. It’s like in Back to the Future Part II (Robert Zemeckis, 1989), when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) sees himself at the school dance in 1955, except in that film it makes for passing jokes, not full sequences played in reverse. As soon as the inverted version of events begins, you know exactly where they’re going yet Nolan insists on dragging the audience through the whole thing. This is from the man who gave us the hotel fight scene in Inception or Bane (Tom Hardy) breaking the bat in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). 

The premise of the film is confusing and quite poorly executed while the action sequences are not that thrilling either – especially not when you have to watch most of them twice.

There are a few positives, at least. The cast are all doing their best to make sense of the baffling material. John David Washington gives it his all and marks himself out as a potential action superstar. Even though his character has been given no more depth than a generic, faceless protagonist in an average video game – his character’s title is literally The Protagonist, and he tells people as much multiple times during the film in case we didn’t already know – he still manages to emit a certain amount of charm and charisma. Meanwhile, Robert Pattinson plays Neil, the Protagonist’s partner who accompanies him through most of the film, bringing a smug knowingness to the character. He is clearly a Nolan surrogate, almost laughing at everyone around him – and the audience – as they struggle to understand what is happening. He actually asks Washington, in yet another exposition dump, “Is your head starting to hurt yet?” Yes, Christopher, it is. Not because your plot is particularly complex but, rather, it lacks coherence. That and the horrendous sound design. 

There are fair amounts of dialogue – often in pivotal scenes – completely drowned out, either by Ludwig Göransson’s score or deafening action going on in the background. One sequence comes instantly to mind as the Protagonist, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and the villainous Andrei (Kenneth Branagh) are zooming around on a boat. Washington and Branagh are leaning in whispering to each other while the engine completely drowns them out. Speaking of Branagh, he is really out of place in this film. He portrays the most basic of basic Bond villains, complete with massive yacht, Russian accent, and devious, world-ending plans. Debicki plays his abused and blackmailed wife – a disturbing trend in her filmography, having played similar roles on TV in The Night Manager (Susanne Bier, 2016), and on film in Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018) – with her usual repertoire of sad eyes and just enough underlying resolve. I would love to see her move away from this typecasting in future as she is a fabulously elegant and talented screen presence, although, with Nolan’s poor track record of female characters in his films, it was never really on the cards here. Indeed, there is a scene where she is brutally beaten by Branagh’s character which apparently had to be cut by nine whole seconds. The scene is bad enough as it is but that extra nine seconds would be gratuitous and indulgent in all the wrong ways.

Overall, that is the biggest problem with this film: Christopher Nolan indulging himself in the worst elements of his filmmaking. He strains himself trying to add complexity to a bog-standard, save-the-world story. There are no genuinely compelling characters with any form of depth past their archetypes (the protagonist, the know-it-all sidekick, the abused wife, etc.). He makes us watch his – below par by his standards – set-pieces not once, but twice. And his awful treatment of women on screen does not look like changing any time soon. A major disappointment.

Tenet will open to Irish audiences on August 26th.

Streaming

The fifth in TFR’s Lockdown Recap series, capturing our quarantine viewing habits and the changing nature of cinema.

Following the closure of cinemas around the world, movie-goers turned to online streaming as it became more accessible. Here, Peter Horan discusses a favourite from MUBI’s recently-opened library.


Berlin: Symphony of a Great City

Written by Peter Horan

Blast from the Past— On Berlin: Symphony of a Great City | by ...

One of the few bright sparks of lockdown, at least from a cinematic perspective, has been the opening up of MUBI’s ‘Library’ section for all subscribers. Previously, the streaming service had operated on a 30-day rotatory basis in which one film was added and another taken away each day. Now, however, audiences can enjoy the mix of arthouse, world, and historical cinema whenever they please as the site opens its doors to its full, effortlessly tasteful catalogue for the first time. 

One lesser-seen film now available to subscribers (the site is free for all film students) is Walter Ruttmann’s 1927 opus, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. Although the film is not far off celebrating its centenary, contemporary audiences will surely be struck by its aptness and relevance to our current situation. Made several years before Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry seized control of German film production, this avant-garde documentary blends real-life footage with experimental animation to produce a vision of the quotidian flurry of a pre-Nazi Berlin. Presented as a kind of ‘day-in-the-life’ (although shot over the course of a year), this hour-long film chronicles the hustle-and-bustle of urban street life, and, in doing so, captures the everyday human interactions which now feel taboo in our post-quarantine world.

Although the film is silent (the version on MUBI is accompanied by Timothy Brock’s 1993 score), it is imbued with a tempestuous energy thanks to its dazzling editing style. As keys on a typewriter spiral while a hypnotist’s wheel swirls, Ruttmann reflects the furious rhythm and velocity of what was, for better or worse, an increasingly-industrialised cityscape. The dizzying collages of emerging technologies at work may seem like evidence of Ruttmann’s approval of the speed of modern industry. A closer examination of his editorial selections – as images of office workers are juxtaposed with footage of animals fighting in the zoo – suggests that the filmmaker is, in fact, highly sceptical of the demanding nature of industrialisation; a message which surely rings true to this day.  

Echoes of contemporary life aside, its historical significance in a cinematographic context should not be overlooked. Alongside works like Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Ruttman’s film was a significant step towards establishing the “city symphony” tendency which became influential in the early filmic avant-garde. Such a movement has been replicated in more recent times by filmmakers like Mark Cousins and Terence Davies but, when it comes to embracing the creative potential of the celluloid, few can match Ruttmann’s formal playfulness. 

Apocalypse

The fourth in TFR’s Lockdown Recap series, capturing our quarantine viewing habits and the changing nature of cinema.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many found themselves turning to dystopian cinema as a form of escapism. Here, two of our contributors focus on their favourites.


Dante’s Peak

Written by Jane Stockwell

Never Ignore The Expert | Dante's Peak Turns 20 - HeadStuff

Quarantine saw a massive change in the viewing habits of the public and it seems only fitting for us to turn to the brand of films I like to call “good trash”. My personal definition of films that fall into this category are those that are committed to escapism and endeavour to entertain but not necessarily to meditate on anything beyond precisely what meets the eye of the viewer. Naturally, disaster films are a staple of this “good trash” category: they have high stakes, they’re action-packed and usually star-studded, which is enough to draw in audiences for harmless fun. My personal favourites are those of the disaster film resurgence in the late 90s. Deep Impact (Mimi Leder, 1998), Independence Day (Ronald Emmerich, 1996), and Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998) are some of the most memorable ones from this period, all of which centre around asteroids and other such space-related disasters. However, at the beginning of quarantine, I felt there was only one film fit for the job of distracting our anxious minds from the collapse of the world as we know it, and that was Dantés Peak (Roger Donaldson, 1997), which was added to Netflix at just the right time.

Dantés Peak follows volcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) and town mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton) as the long-dormant titular volcano threatens to erupt and destroy Wando’s town below. When I saw Dantés Peak had been added to Netflix, I was excited because I remember, in my childhood, thinking it was the most exciting, action-packed, epic film of all time. My nostalgic memories were soon tainted, however, as I discovered my child-like recollection had masked a run-of-the-mill, slightly boring film.  Even as disaster films go, Dantés Peak lacks the originality of something like Armageddon or Deep Impact solely on the basis of story. The volcano/natural disaster film is a recurring trope, and it’s difficult to discern what, if anything, sets Dantés Peak apart. The characters typically lack depth or development and the plot is extremely predictable in that you know exactly what will happen, and who is going to die, from the outset. However, with Pierce Brosnan at his peak to add to its appeal, even my adult perspective could not destroy the joy of the escapism wrapped up in this tale, even if he does appear to take the film a little too seriously. The explosions, moments of gore and excitement are all very well executed. The film utilizes mostly real stunts and explosions, which is impressive even now, 23 years on. Do not, however, expect to be wowed by any semblance of originality or artistry, as you will likely be disappointed. If you see Danté’s Peak for what it is, you will likely enjoy the event that it is to watch it.


Threads

Written by Gillian Doyle

Terrifying 1980s movie Threads to be re-released as Nuclear War ...

Director Mick Jackson has said that, after your work airs on the BBC, you get phone calls congratulating it. This was not the case after Threads aired in 1984. This is not a condemnation of the film’s quality but a testament to it. He realised later that anyone who watched it was simply unable to talk about it. With some distance between the absolutely harrowing viewing experience and now, I’ll attempt to do just that.

The film starts with a focus on Jimmy (Reece Dinsdale) and Ruth (Karen Meagher), a young unmarried couple blindsighted by an accidental pregnancy. Alongside their preparation for their new situation, talking to their parents, and finding an apartment to live in, tensions are reaching a boiling point between the US and the Soviet Union. This narrative is transmitted to the viewer through on-screen text, as well as playing out on the TV news in the background of the characters’ real lives.

Eventually, this background becomes the foreground and the bomb is dropped. That is when the plot ends. Because, as Jackson makes so very clear in the film, there is no plot after a nuclear bomb. Any agency the characters had over their lives is gone, replaced with the daily struggle to prolong their survival. Jackson combines scenes of hopelessness with emotionless text-screens to show the bomb’s impact on individuals as well as the country. A single viewing of the film proves that this is an incredibly effective framework for getting this reality across.

The last scene is a perfect summation of the whole film. Ruth’s daughter has just undergone yet another tragedy and the film ends immediately after she breathes in to scream. This unfinished reaction to the post-bomb world is the only way the film could end because there would be no return to normality in Ruth’s daughter’s lifetime.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 impacted my viewing experience. When watching the city’s ill-prepared emergency operations team deny food to areas with low chances of surviving the initial blast, it was difficult not to think of the real-world governments denying people the financial aid they need to weather our current crisis. Seeing how the state would turn against its own people, such as giving smaller rations to those who cannot work, felt too close to the real-life governments ending unemployment pay for those refusing to go back to work. As affecting as the film is, the real horror of Threads is the questions it causes us to ask about contemporary governments and the interest they have in our wellbeing.

Binge-watching

The third in TFR’s Lockdown Recap series, capturing our quarantine viewing habits and the changing nature of cinema.

Many of us binge-watched shows that got us through gloomy days at home. In these three pieces, we asked our contributors to revisit their favourites.


Cheers

Written by Mia Sherry

Cheers' Said Goodbye 25 Years Ago: Raise a Toast With These 9 ...

It was the very beginning of lockdown when I was sitting with my family at a mandatory “family movie night” (Corona you heartless wench), and Woody Harrelson popped on screen. I can’t remember what on earth it was we were watching, or why he was in it, or even if he was any good because seconds after his jovial small-town boy at Bible camp smile showed up, my mother made some crack about his character in Cheers. My ears perked up. “Cheers?” I asked, innocent. Oh yeah, my parents explained to me, great show. That’s where our Woody got his start. And with that, dear reader, it began. 

It began my infatuation with the Cheers pub, owned by one Sam Malone (played by the rakishly good looking Ted Danson), populated with a cast of zany but lovable characters set in the leafy downtown of Boston’s metropolis. What was it exactly that drew me to Cheers? I can’t quite say- it wasn’t just Woody Harrelson, nor was it my parent’s glowing review. Rather, I think what drew me into it, and what kept me watching for eleven seasons, was the glorious feeling of having accomplished something; as most sitcom fans will know, Cheers essentially set the record for what we now consider “a sitcom”. The workplace setting, the recurring jokes and quips, the will-they-won’t-they storylines; I’d seen it all before, in The Office, in Friends, in How I Met Your Mother and the like. It was comfortably nostalgic, and yet, I still got self-rewarded brownie points because in the midst of a pandemic, I had dared to venture into something new. Covid-19 changed things in so many ways, but for me, it also served as a timely reminder of what it is that I love so much: my friends, my family and my health for one, but also for the timeless gift that any kind of motion picture can portray. Cheers, with its sweet if heart wrenching love triangles, its classic yet still hilarious humour and above all, its stunning character portraits, was like being wrapped in a blanket with an Austen novel in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. It was veritable chicken soup for the soul; exactly what the doctor ordered. 


Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

Written by Niamh Muldowney

Netflix's 'Tiger King' Prompts Sheriff to Seek New Leads in Cold ...

It seems like a lifetime since the beginning of lockdown when Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode, 2020) and its bizarre cast of characters leapt into our lives. With college closing and the world seemingly crumbling, I was desperately in need of a distraction. On the advice of a friend, I began to watch this documentary series, very much not expecting to finish it in one sitting! I watched in awe and horror as the story unfolded, shocked at every new twist that was somehow more unbelievable than the last. I texted my friend with updates of what was happening. Around episode two, I remarked that “it’s like watching a train crash in slow motion – it’s dreadful but I can’t look away,” to which he responded, “it starts getting real fast soon,” and he was absolutely correct.

The series isn’t without its faults. For the majority of its runtime, it walks the thin line between exploration and exploitation, but there are moments when that line is crossed. It was at those times that I sincerely questioned the ethics of showing some of the footage that they did. In a strange way, however, Tiger King was the perfect series for when it was released. At a time when we were gripped with uncertainty, through Tiger King we could embrace the unexpected and become comfortable with not knowing what was around the corner.


Parks and Recreation

Written by Grace Kenny

New Parks and Recreation reunion special brings back Leslie Knope ...

Parks and Recreation (Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, 2009-2015) is the perfect companion for anyone struggling with loneliness and uncertainty. I was two weeks into lockdown when I realised that my life was quickly becoming akin to a scene in ‘The Comeback Kid,’ during which the first line of ‘Stand’ by R.E.M plays over Ben Wyatt’s (Adam Scott) failed claymation project, ‘Requiem for a Tuesday.’ Like Ben’s frame of mind in this episode, something had to change. So, I returned to binge-watching seven seasons of the fictional Pawnee Parks and Recreation department’s triumphs and setbacks. This was my personal remedy to the chaos and isolation of lockdown. From the outset, the series’ protagonist, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), embodies optimism that sets the uplifting tone of each episode, elevating the mood of the show’s characters, as well as myself, the viewer. Every episode took me away from the void that was lockdown. Anytime I became sad at the thought of not seeing my friends, I turned to Leslie and Ann Perkin’s (Rashida Jones) invincible friendship in the episodes ‘The Fight’ and ‘Ann and Chris.’ During melodramatic moments of believing that nothing would ever be the same again, the Parks and Recreation department’s comical yet uplifting resilience in ‘Win, Draw, or Lose’ provided reassurance. The episode ‘Campaign Ad’ fulfilled my need for a lighthearted watch after reading a few too many terrifying news articles. Ultimately, binge-watching the upbeat world of Parks and Recreation became my daily escape from lockdown to a happy, soothing, fictional place.

A Look at Intimacy

The second in TFR’s Lockdown Recap series, capturing our quarantine viewing habits and the changing nature of cinema.

At a time where meeting people and even touching was largely forbidden, films about intimacy- whether physical, emotional, romantic or friendly- proved important to many of us. In these two pieces, our contributors examine how cinema reflects our current attitudes towards intimacy.


Anderson and Intimacy

Written by Seirce Mhac Conghail

The Cinematography of Wes Anderson's Go-To DP, Robert Yeoman
Bill Murray as Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic (2004)

Broadly speaking, there is no cinematic universe more suited to the warped, anxious, and utterly bizarre experience of lockdown than that of Wes Anderson. A filmmaker renowned for his attention-grabbing quirks, Anderson’s distinct style is especially soothing when it comes to the treatment of intimacy. As a society, our attitude to intimacy has had to drastically change over the past months. Social distancing is the expected norm, as physical contact has become a near-taboo. We equally crave and fear closeness, which spans not only the realms of touch but of emotion too. We have found ourselves lonely. We have found ourselves wanting things we can no longer have. We are still finding ourselves madly grappling with the growing pains of a new etiquette. 

Where, then, to turn? How can we avoid the resurfacing of the apocalypse genre? Harder yet, how can we escape into fiction without being reminded of the world we so desperately miss? 

Here, the world of Wes Anderson is a haven. It is full of characters who clash with intimacy. They are awkward, physically stiff but verbally expressive, and preoccupied with saving face over showing emotion. Many of Anderson’s films deal with characters who must descend from the constraints of supposedly acceptable behaviour into the brief but truthful madness of their repressed selves. Often this enables the characters to then return to the world of manners, and to live with feelings and external expectations in harmony. The discord of the internal and external is presented so strangely yet so humorously that we cannot help but find an affinity with the characters. We are liberated briefly from the minefield of real-life intimacy as the perplexity of it all is made palatable. 

One stylistic feature that particularly soothes the anxiety of physical closeness is the composition of shots. They are obsessively symmetrical. Often characters are situated at a distance that would normally seem unnatural yet now is protocol. In addition, dialogue is often presented as if flipping on a 180 degree axis, a constant back-and-forth. While feeling jerky and manufactured, this aspect reflects the social interactions we are having today, either in person or through platforms such as Zoom. 

Thinking about intimacy of any kind has taken on an extraordinary amount of weight since mid-March. While some fictional worlds only offer us a twisted mirror, the films of Wes Anderson remain a reassuring escape. The magic is in the detail: while reflecting our remoulded society more accurately than ever, Anderson’s films are so thoroughly consistent, so convincingly constructed as fully operating worlds that they allow us, if only for a short time, to forget.


Austen and Intimacy

Written by Markéta Ní Eithir

10 Sense & Sensibility Movie Facts
Edward (Hugh Grant) and Elinor (Emma Thompson) exchange a passionate glance in Sense and Sensibility.

No touching and a two-meter distance with all but one’s family: not exactly an environment that we imagine romance flourishing in. While there was undoubtedly a resurgence in the popularity of films such as 50 Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015) during these lonely times, there is a different group of films that ooze with an intimacy that is perfect for the corona era. It is a world where everyone’s love language seems to be eye contact and less is often more in the romantic relationships we root for. I am talking, of course, about Jane Austen adaptations.

In Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee, 1995) Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Edward (Hugh Grant) manage to social distance for just about their entire courtship. Their unspoken love for each other flourishes and eventually reaches its peak, not with a kiss, but Elinor’s relieved sobbing while Edward watches from a safe distance. In a very different approach, the (spoiler) villainous Willoughby is anything but isolated from Marianne (Kate Winslet), carrying her out of the rain, holding her hands as he spins her around and even touching her hair as he cuts a lock of it for himself. We all know only the more corona-safe relationship survives. Coincidence? I think not. 

The films also have plenty of dance sequences, during which the protagonists are often forced to confront their feelings for each other. In Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005), everyone else in the room suddenly vanishes as Lizzie Bennet (Kiera Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) passionately bicker while they frolic around each other, barely touching. Emma and Mr. Knightley don’t even need to talk to realize their mutual attraction in 2020’s Emma (Autumn de Wilde), and while their choreography does require more physical contact, most of the ladies are, very sensibly, wearing gloves.

And then of course there is the perfect quarantine activity: walking. From Marianne’s adventurous, and later tragic, wander in the rain to Mr. Darcy’s romantic stroll at sunrise, it is not only the preferred mode of transportation for many of the characters, but a pastime that allows them to process their feelings. Never has walking been so emotional.

The films are also rife with family squabbles that everyone who has been stuck at home for the past few months can relate to all too well. So, if you are craving some socially distanced romance, look no further than the cinematic adaptations of the work of one of the most prolific writers of all time.

Nostalgic Films

The first in TFR’s Lockdown Recap series, capturing our quarantine viewing habits and the changing nature of cinema.


Over lockdown many of us turned to films from our childhood as a source of comfort. We asked our contributors to write about their much-loved films that have stood the test of time.

Some Like It Hot

Written by Katie Lynch

The Many Sides of Marilyn - Screening of Some Like It Hot | Royal ...

Over the last few weeks, I pulled up the old reliable, Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959), seeking comfort in a childhood favourite to fill the coronavirus-shaped hole in my heart. Little Me would watch Some Like It Hot every Christmas, plus the occasional in-between viewing during the year. Little Me loved this hilarious black-and-white romp where the heroes cross-dressed, gangsters jumped out of giant cakes, and the legendary Marilyn Monroe flirted with everybody. Little Me did not, however, realise how horny this film truly is.  

Tony Curtis’s character is certainly horny. His nefarious schemes and ridiculous Cary Grant impression lands him in the privileged position of Monroe’s arms. The two treat us to a heart-warming chemistry built on lies and deceit, but nothing beats the chemistry between Monroe and the camera itself. From the moment she slinks by Jack Lemmon’s character for the first time, “boi-oi-oi-oing” is pretty much a constant state of being for everyone involved. There is a reason she is so iconic, and that is her deep understanding of sex appeal and its relationship to the camera. Watching her as a child was mesmerising and exciting, and as an adult the experience has only been magnified. She elevates the film, providing its most memorable performance, and makes everyone question their sexuality along the way.

Speaking of which, Jack Lemmon’s character provides us with a storyline which captured my tiny heart as a child. Disguised as a woman, he becomes involved, at first reluctantly, with a male millionaire, but as the film goes on, he appears to be more and more smitten with the man – he even agrees to marry him. Of course, given the time and the Hays Code, queerness could be read as the butt of the joke, but with the famous last line of the movie, it is a joke that queer people, including my little self, can be in on at least a little bit. 


A Cinderella Story

Written by Kate L Ryan

This is why A Cinderella Story is one of the best films ever made ...

An outcast is drawn into a secret relationship with her school’s star athlete, who dreams of being a writer. They form a bond that cannot be severed by social status, uncompassionate parents, and the pressures of trying to get into a good college. No, this isn’t that sultry summer hit, Normal People, but the iconic film of my childhood, A Cinderella Story (Mark Rosman, 2004). Is this a well-directed examination of intimacy and connection? No, obviously not. But it is enjoyable trash that you can watch with younger sisters without worrying about mentally scarring them. 

Hilary Duff plays Sam, the titular Cinderella. After the death of her father, Sam spends a miserable existence working for her pink-obsessed stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge, the best performance of this film). Sam’s fairytale wish is to go to Princeton. Why Princeton? Because that’s “where the princes go”. She starts an anonymous email relationship with school quarterback Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray). He’s your basic high school heartthrob but he quotes Tennyson in between passing back and forth an American football during deep, meaningful convos with his bros. After he invites her to meet him at the homecoming ball, the modernised fairy tale ensues. 

This film isn’t particularly good but it was the first film I ever saw at the cinema. I watched it over and over again on VCR until I grew up and became too good for fluffy teen rom-coms. When I rewatched it for corona comfort, I found myself able to recite the lines and it will always hold a place in my cold, cynical heart. Despite how cool we all think we are, each of us has an objectively uncool film that brings us back to a time before we cared about good taste, and this is mine. 

Classic Summer Films: Part 2

Part of Trinity Film Review’s Summer Series (2019): touching on all things summer, student, and coming of age cinema.

We asked our writers what they believed was the ideal summer film – and the response was overwhelming. In part two of two, a group of film fans have decided what their ultimate summer film is, from the corny, the coming-of-age, and the spooky. This will be the final entry in the summer series, stay tuned for more come September!


High School Musical 2

Written by Marieke Oggel

10 Reasons Why High School Musical 2 Still Puts the Music in Us 10 ...

Enter the dynamic world of East High’s shiny students: moral dilemmas, dramatic dance numbers, and moral dilemmas expressed through dramatic dance numbers. In High School Musical’s second installment, we follow the characters out of school and into Lava Springs country club. Here Troy has bagged jobs for him and all of his equally theatrical friends. The film is brighter, shinier and more melodramatic than its predecessor. The stakes are higher and the spray tans are dodgier. It also birthed what is probably the most iconic sequence of all the HSM trilogy, in which Zac Efron performs angsty (dance?) moves while strutting across a golf course.

Maintaining the series’ motif of setting unrealistic secondary school standards for a then preteen audience, the film begins with the most extravagant and celebratory end to the academic year. The rest of the narrative follows suit – sun, swimming pools, and Tikki Warrior costumes galore. It’s not all golden, though. Friendships are tested, relationships crumble, and Zeke struggles to impress Sharpay with his Austrian flake pastry.

The film is an easy, enjoyable watch for summer days – perfect for those when Ireland is slightly less sunny than Lava Springs. Watch it alone or get some friends over for a singalong and/or drinking game. Google has plenty of ideas for this, but my personal favourite is to drink every time Mr Fulton stresses. There’s also the potential for profound cinematic discussion: who is really in the wrong here? Does Troy deserve all the stick over his new pro-basketballer friends and Italian golf shoes? Is Sharpay the evil antagonist she’s made out to be? And is Chad’s anger a product of loyalty or jealousy?

Growing up is relating less to Gabriella Montez and more to Mr Fulton – and that’s totally okay. The film is iconic and its songs have aged like fine wine. We will stan forever.


Dazed and Confused

Written by Grace Kenny

Dazed and Confused (1993) directed by Richard Linklater • Reviews ...

Dazed and Confused tells the, perhaps, stereotypical coming-of-age tale, but over the course of the night that commences a middle school and a high school’s summer holidays. Although Richard Linklater’s 1993 classic story of the American high schooler’s summer may be polar opposite to the teenage summers that we can remember, there is still a nostalgia trip to be had. Set in sun-dripped Austin, Texas, Linklater’s ensemble of unique, insightful characters set out on an evening of juvenile antics which include a hazing, cruising and a keg party. 

If you need another reason to watch it, listening to the film’s soundtrack can only be described as landing in yours or someone else’s memory a carefree childhood summer of the past.  From Aerosmith to Alice Cooper to ZZ Top, the music featured in Dazed and Confused nails the film’s tone of summer nostalgia.

The film provokes such nostalgia, as multiple characters’ first encounters with alcohol, drugs, and mischief are documented, that it’s difficult not to get excited for longer evenings and catch-ups with friends over the summer months. If there was ever a film guaranteed to put you in the summer mood, Dazed and Confused is always a great call.


Scream

Written by Hiram Harrington

Scream - Is Scream on Netflix - FlixList

What says summer more than beautiful teenagers in a beautiful highschool getting stabbed in not-so-beatiful ways? Wes Craven’s legendary 1998 slasher flick turned a satirical look inward at the formulaic structure of horror movies. It also just happens to star two iconic scream queens – Neve Campbell and Drew Barrymore – in their teenage prime. Scream centers on the life of Sidney Prescott (Campbell) after the gruesome murder of one of her classmates. Pursued by the masked killer “Ghostface”, Sidney faces a race against time as more and more of her friends turn up dead.

While that isn’t the most cheerful of premises, Scream represents the 90s feeling of carelessness. It’s about hazy romances, sneaking out late, and the drama of house parties. If a near character study on the Smells Like Teen Spirit era isn’t enough of a draw, Scream features some of the most nineties names in the modern vernacular: Friends star Courteney Cox, Riverdale’s Skeet Ulrich, Scooby Doo’s Matthew Lillard, and activist Rose McGowan. The horror is infused with wit and self-deprecating humour, and that’s just the right recipe for an angsty summer of your own

Scream is a rare kind of horror movie: it appeals to both hardcore terror-seekers in its blood-soaked stabbing scenes (alongside a salacious parody of genre tropes), and to strangers of horrors in the way it engages both the comedy and society of its time. That makes it sound heavy, but really, it’s a bunch of the most fun actors of the genre trying to find a guy in a dollar-store grim reaper costume. If that’s not summer shenanigans, you’re not doing it right.