Everything Everywhere All at Once

Review by Katie McKenna

Going to the cinema alone is one of my guilty pleasures. A lot of people ask me why I love seeing films solo so much and I usually give them a pretentious answer like; “having other people around ruins the immersion”. That’s not the truth. It’s because I cry easily at films and I’m so embarrassed about this, that my nightmare would be for someone to see it happen. Hearing about the time I was three and cried during Madagascar (Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell, 2005) still makes me audibly cringe to this day (It was during the scene where Alex realises he can’t be friends with Marty anymore because he wants to eat him. In case you were wondering). And as I got older these tears during movies became a bigger and bigger source of shame. Until one day I stopped crying during films. In the battle between what I thought was willpower (but I now know was humiliation) and sincerity, willpower had ‘won’. But I kept seeing films alone, just in case I had a moment of weakness.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, 2022) follows middle-aged Chinese immigrant Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) as she struggles to run her laundromat, keep her family together, please her disapproving father (James Hong), and most importantly do her taxes.

It’s hard to where to start when writing about Everything Everywhere All at Once. You can write about how the directors were originally meant to direct the Marvel series Loki (Kate Herron, 2021-), but left because they felt a big studio was suppressing their vision. And by sticking to their guns and telling the story they truly wanted to tell they made a film leaps and bounds better than anything produced by Marvel. Or you could write about the huge amount of multiverse films being made at the moment, and what this newfound desire to explore different realities, just like ours but with a few small tweaks, says about a society who lost two whole years to a pandemic. But all this seems like a disservice to the Daniels’ film and everything it stands for.

As I taught myself not to cry and detach myself from films, it seemed like Hollywood was doing the same. I wasn’t the only one finding sincerity more and more scary. In the last ten years it seems like every blockbuster is becoming more self-deprecating. With characters pointing out clichés and plot-holes within the film or undermining any genuine moment with some quippy dialogue. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the antithesis to this. Unlike myself and a lot of modern blockbusters, it isn’t crippled with self-doubt and fear of what other people may think. The only word I can think of to describe EEAAO is nice, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment. It’s a rare type of film that takes itself seriously in all the right ways, and had me beaming for every second of it, even as tears streamed down my face. The Daniels have crafted a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and is all the better for it.

Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017) has one of my favourite quotes about heartbreak ever, “To feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”.  I think this quote applies to films too. It takes bravery to be simple and sincere. To believe in what you’re saying, to present your emotions to others and leave them there, not undermining them, and ask others to feel them with you. That’s what so rare and special about Everything Everywhere All at Once. Why are we watching films, if not to feel something? What is the point of a movie devoid of emotion or meaning. Being ironic is the easy, and lazy choice. After I would cry at movie, I would feel embarrassed, but long after the shame left the film would stay with me longer than any quip ever could. These moments that could move me to tears would live in my brain forever, and come back as memories when I needed it the most. I hope more filmmakers take the Daniels’ lead, because if EEAAO has taught me anything it’s that in a confusing meaningless world, all that matters is kindness and sincerity. And I’m ready to cry at movies again.


Review by Eve Smith

Ennio Morricone is always framed by the same cartoonish pair of bottle-end glasses. You might not know his face but you most definitely know what Hans Zimmer termed;  Morricone’s “instantly recognisable” musical voice. Having produced the scores for more than four hundred films such as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) and Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003), Morricone is more likely than not the mastermind behind your cinematic music favourites.

Ennio (Giuseppe Tornature, 2021) charts the start of Morricone’s career in World War Two Italy, passing through his conflict with the classical composers at his conservatory and onto the way he revolutionised music-making at the RCA. Beautifully woven-in clips of the films he scored tell the story of the decisions that went into their musical making. The film stresses that Morricone could read the emotion in a scene like no one else and it is most interesting when it tells of the unique approach Morricone took to the songs’ construction, using objects like tin cans and balls dropped in baths to think outside the box of sound.

Quietly beautiful, the opening scene of Ennio warming up seems to set the film up to build a steady momentum, but it ends up stalling into an amble. The film plods into a zealous dedication to the chronology of the songs. The recollections of disputes with directors who eventually came around to seeing Morricone’s brilliance is a structure that quickly tires.  The film would have benefited enormously from killing a few of its darlings: cramming in so many celebrity testimonies (with such gems from Clint Eastwood like ‘when I saw the music I was surprised because the music was so unique’) dilute the film’s overall insight.

Those with a deep interest in his work will love hearing the backstories and thought processes that went into producing his iconic scores. But, as a viewer, you start to wish Tornature would have employed some of this same creativity in his approach. The majority of the film is more about the details that went into the making of the songs than about anything else. These descriptions struggle to sustain the lengthy body of the film; there is no real narrative or deep-dive into his psychology or past. As a result, Ennio only scratches the surface of the shame he appears to feel at never having broken out of the world of cinema scoring. As Robert Faenza said of one of Morricone’s scores, ‘the music carries the film’. In the same way, Ennio leans a little too much on its music to pull it through.

Ennio is strongest in its candid moments. Morricone tearfully recalling that when Elio Petri chose a different score for a film that went on to win an Oscar, he told Ennio to ‘slap [him] in the face’ because he made ‘the best music [Petri] could have ever imagined’, and the lingering shots of various talking heads humming out the tunes of various scores are endearing.
At one point, Morricone is described as timid, largely because he contains a profound abyss of musical talent. Morricone hints that it’s not that he can’t speak, rather that his mind is perpetually focussed on music. Maybe that’s what Ennio ends up achieving: a sliver of the depth of Morricone’s musical talent that for the most part, speaks for itself.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Review by John Dugan

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (David Yates, 2022) is the newest installment within the Fantastic Beasts series, following the clash between the two most powerful wizards in the world, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), as they struggle for the fate of both the Muggle and Magical worlds. After the birth of a magical beast with a mysterious power, Dumbledore creates a team in order to prevent Grindelwald from using this creature to start a war between the worlds. 

There are few films I have felt conflicted about paying to watch, but with the recent transphobia from the producer, this would have been one of them. Especially after Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (David Yates, 2018) I was prepared for another plot heavy, character dense, convoluted film. While these expectations were somewhat met, the film did manage to surprise me by balancing new characters and content with what was previously established. 

However, it was by no means a perfect film, or a strong installment in the series. One of its strangest aspects compared to the previous films was in its tone. Where The Crimes of Grindelwald could be described as dark, The Secrets of Dumbledore felt almost silly, at some points breaking my sense of immersion. The film was clearly trying to capture the same magic of the Harry Potter series. This did work in the film’s favor to some degree, but with the more mature tone set in the previous Fantastic Beasts films, it ultimately took away from The Secrets of Dumbledore in both plot and tone. 

This leads into another major issue with the film: pacing. The film constantly jumps between scenes and characters, with a noticeable lack of establishing shots or breathing room. The plot itself, and the numerous plans which characters are attempting to carry out feel arbitrary, under the excuse that not everyone can or should know the overarching plans behind certain decisions. This discrepancy became especially noticeable in the final act. Events which the series had been building to in previous films, and ones which should have been integral to the story fell flat, being resolved in a few minutes of screentime. 

Another related issue stemming from this is the few character arcs in this film remain surface level. There is a distinct lack of depth or time given to understand the motivations of any characters besides Dumbledore. Character journeys which had been central to the previous films are distractingly sidelined to give more time to the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. 

Frankly, the film appears to be written and intended as filler until the next films are released. While this franchise will most likely continue regardless, The Secrets of Dumbledore has cemented itself as an entertaining, albeit convoluted watch.

The Batman

Review by Cat Earley

When Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut finally hit cinemas in 1992, audiences were relieved to see – among many other things – that the infamous voiceover had been axed from the film at last. After years of waiting, fans could finally enjoy the ice-cold Harrison Ford experience that had so long been tainted by Scott’s choice to add just a little bit too much Harrison Ford to the film. And when I first sat down and watched the opening moments of Matt Reeves’ new The Batman (2022), I had the similar thought that in a decade, fans would be crying out for a Reeves Cut – the cut that would remove the cringeworthy voiceover and transform an already solid film into a brilliant one.

In the remaining slow and painful three hours of The Batman’s runtime I would come to discover that this film is not Blade Runner. The pretentious, edgy voiceover is only the tip of the iceberg of problems and grievances ailing Robert Pattinson’s onscreen debut as the Caped Crusader. The film’s plot is one that I was initially impressed to see – Batman attempts to solve a murder-mystery surrounding The Riddler, while also navigating the increasingly corrupt and untrustworthy authorities that govern Gotham City. Perhaps my expectations had already been set so low that to anticipate the antics of a villain
that was not The Joker for once had already placed the film in high regard for me, and yet DC still managed to disappoint me.

The murder-mystery plot was gossemer-thin, at all times propped up by at least ten different Mcguffins and plot contrivances keeping it in place. Pattinson’s acting leaves much to be desired, and leaves most of the work of creating any chemistry between Batman and Catwoman to his co-star, Zoe Kravitz, one of the few actors in the film that actually seems to remember what film she is in. Granted, the majority of the dialogue ensures that nobody – actors and audience alike – is ever quite sure what exactly the
genre is, with the tone constantly careening between one of a horror, an action, a psychological thriller, and a romance, while still leaving plenty of time in its three hour runtime for a wacky Mafia subplot.

All of these elements band together nightmarishly in some kind of attempt to create a social commentary that is so niche and nuanced that none of us can figure out what it is. Is it critical of the failing systems in place in Gotham? Is it acknowledging that wealthy billionaires like Bruce Wayne may be the real problem? Should the citizens of Gotham eat the rich, or is this bat just too cool to eat? Only Matt Reeves knows. All we know after its release is that The Batman is destined to become another flop in DC’s impressive legacy of them. But hey, at least the Batmobile was pretty cool.

The House

Review by Alexander Garrett

Can you charge rent on the laughter of children? Pay interest on a home-cooked meal?

Watching TV in the bedroom, cuddling on the couch. Stair-lifts, hide-and-seek, faded photos on the mantle, empty cans in the garden. Arguments, eviction notices, and cockroaches under the stairs, breeding in the rotting fetid darkness. Good times and bad debts. Grand designs and existential dread.

A house, a home, a sanctuary, an asset – where you grew up and where you will die.

Nexus Studios’ aptly-named animated series The House (2022), recently released on Netflix, is a three-part anthology, each episode centred around the same grand, distinctly ominous Victorian villa throughout its long ill-fated history. As the story transitions, the house itself also changes in nature, from a 19th-century country manor that inside becomes an impenetrable labyrinth of shifting walls, to a modern-day refurbished terrace, plagued by sneering buyers, economic recession, and swarms of beetles, then finally a post-apocalyptic haven stranded in a biblical tide, filled with overdue repairs and cash-poor tenants as the waters creep higher and higher. 

Rendered in painstakingly-detailed stop-motion, the film’s cast of humans, anthropomorphic rats, and cats are expressive and exceptionally well-animated – with stand-out voice-acting performances from Mia Goth (Mabel), Mark Heap (Mr Thomas), and Jarvis Cocker (the Developer) – its compelling characters and otherworldly (if mildly disturbing) surrealism warranting favourable comparisons to Isle of Dogs (2017) and Coraline (2009). The rich textures and props dotted around each environment are complemented by the animators’ and effects artists’ excellent application of light and colour, from roaring fireplaces, bin bags heaving with refuse, to the morning sun shrouded in soupy mist, that makes each backdrop feel authentically immersive. 

At times, the movements and lip-syncing can feel stiff and mechanical, an unnerving visual effect for some that, in this case, arguably serves the anthology well; just as their models move like puppets on strings – their limbs seemingly contorted to please an invisible master – in narrative terms, each protagonist’s desires are inexorably constrained by vast external forces beyond their control. Either way, considering the immense difficulty of the medium (as well as my personal fondness for animation), the degree of intricate artistic craftsmanship is still a feat to behold.

Beneath this appealing/unsettling visual aesthetic, all three episodes are tied together by the anthology’s central thematic question and its “historical” development – that is, what the house represents: a home to provide comfort or an asset to accumulate wealth? Personal security or commercial status? This struggle between social need and private accumulation afflicts all commodified housing systems – a contradiction that today weighs like an albatross on the necks of tenants, families, and homeowners In Ireland and around the world, shackled with soaring debts and rent while property barons and corporate vultures pick their pockets – making the series’ subject ever more pressing. 

Although this may sound rather unconvincing (bear with me), in my view, The House offers an excellent example of the interplay between social alienation and psychological horror – how mundane economic processes can adopt more terrifying unearthly mythical qualities. (After all, why else would financial recessions be framed in terms of “fear”, “panic”, “anxiety”, “crisis”, “depression”?) The existential dread that plagues each protagonist’s life – inescapable dungeons, swarming insects, biblical floods – are in fact painfully real, demons that can only be exorcised once the material forces that created them have been swept away.


In this vein, the first narrative depicts the rise of this demonic/economic spectre, as Raymond, a country gentleman fallen “beneath his station”, makes a Faustian bargain with the opulent Mr Van Schoonbeek to build him a magnificent mansion. Enthralled by luxury, he and his wife Penelope are (literally) possessed by primal hedonism to indulge in mindless ritualistic labour, as Van Schoonbeek constantly rebuilds the house – a gruelling incoherent farce of over-production that drives his steward Mr Thomas to a mental breakdown. Neglected and naïve to this disorienting consumerist madness, Mabel and her (surprisingly durable) infant sister Isobel are forced to fend for themselves, eventually finding their parents horrifically transformed into furniture, destroyed by their own rapacious consumption, as the fireplace spills over and engulfs the house – the apocalyptic climax of wealth accumulation.

Essentially re-iterating this financial phantom’s tale in a modern setting, the second story involves a rat-developer breaking his back renovating Raymond’s former house, haggling with both creditors and his lover over the phone. Radio broadcasts describe a catastrophic recession, reflected in the house’s threadbare furnishings riddled with beetles and the developer’s own exhausted condition. Replicating Mr Thomas’s servility, he debases himself to satisfy derisive upper-class clients, eventually cracking after a grotesque couple begin to occupy the property (without buying it), treating him like a servant. Finally, driven to primal insanity, he succumbs to pure animalistic greed, as the couple’s extended family ravage the house in a disgusting orgy of mindless consumption. Ultimately, the house’s all-consuming beetle infestation proves rather ironic, since the rats have been vermin “infesting” the property all along – consumption, investment, and destruction merely consecutive steps in the same irrational catabolic cycle.

Finally, in the third’s episode’s slightly contrived allegory for climate change/collapse, the all-consuming curse barely clings to life, as exasperated cat-landlady Rosa struggles to manage the house amid a post-apocalyptic flood where money, production, and property rights have lost all practical meaning. Though all her other tenants have left, she still initially treats Elias and Jen as uneconomical burdens, paying rent in fish and crystals since they understandably have no alternative income. In denial over society’s collapse, Rosa clings to obsolete conventions of market-value and private-ownership even as water pools around their ankles (invoking hints of Ben Shapiro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-w-pdqwiBw), rejecting the communal mysticism of wandering hippie Cosmos. Initially promising to help “renovate” the property, the transient instead cannibalises some floorboards for Elias’ boat and transforms the house itself into a colossal sea-faring vessel, sacrificing Rosa’s ground-rent for their collective well-being. After a tumultuous internal struggle against her deep-seated fears and economic instincts, eventually Rosa decides to set sail, exorcising the house’s demons and ending the domestic nightmare on a hopeful note of liberation and adventure.
Ultimately, while I did thoroughly enjoy The House, relishing the degree of animated craftsmanship and thematically-engaging storytelling, nevertheless the film feels intangibly incomplete in some aspects. Given the sheer variety of genres in just a 90-minute run-time, the stories here can feel rather spread-thin, leaving the audience wanting more – or at least greater specialisation – more in-depth character development, greater thematic complexity, or more unsettling skin-crawling horror. Overall, despite the second episode’s repetitive insights and the third’s underdeveloped narrative, The House is still a work to behold, offering a heartening blends of emotional drama, enthralling aesthetics, and mild nightmare fuel – a combination that once made Coraline so compelling for a generation of young traumatised minds.

The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert

Review by Niamh Muldowney

Peter Jackson’s 2021 documentary series, The Beatles: Get Back was an astonishing piece of work, synthesising over sixty hours of footage and over a hundred and fifty hours of audio, into a nearly eight hour Beatles marathon. The sprawling documentary, constructed from Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s footage of the songwriting sessions leading up to the band’s iconic last public performance on the rooftop of Apple Corp in London, released on Disney Plus near the end of last year. Now out in Irish cinemas, The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert focuses directly on the concert in question, with the addition of the Disney Plus opening that swiftly sets up the formation of the band and the major moments in their history prior to 1969.

The portrayal of the concert is infused with the unique energy and joy of performing in front of an audience. There is a wonderful sense of being-in-the-moment as the band performs and you can hear the songs getting tighter and more polished with each repetition. Jackson also plays with space by showing multiple different views of the concert at once, forming triptychs out of footage from the ten cameras either on the rooftop or on the street below. In this way, while fans may have seen some of the concert before in the Let it Be film, they have not seen it like this. 

Due to the set list of the rooftop concert (composed mostly of repetitions of Get Down, and Don’t Let Me Down), the film unfortunately lacks the narrative flow of a typical concert, however Jackson adds structure to the film by intercutting between interviews of people listening from the street, along with the police officers attempting to shut the impromptu concert down. These micro-narratives, along with the conclusion of the film that shows the band and their partners listening to the recordings, helps keep the audience’s attention and brings the film to a satisfying close.

The digital restoration of the footage also needs to be commended, it is clear no corners were cut for the streaming release as it still maintains its quality when projected in a theatre. It is truly something special to see such larger than life musical figures projected onto the big screen and by bringing the concert to a cinema venue, Jackson can make full use of the sound system. There is a novel joy in having a bass line from over 50 years ago rattling in your chest as you tap your foot along to one of the repetitions of Get Back. 

Get Back – The Rooftop Concert is a must see for fans of The Beatles, if purely for the fresh look at this familiar concert. While there is less here to appeal to those who aren’t fans of The Beatles, the film is short and sweet, doesn’t over stay its welcome, and is certain to make for a fun night out. 

Death on the Nile

Review by James Mahon

Kenneth Branagh is back as Agatha Christies’ brilliant Belgian (not French) detective Hercules Poirot in Death on the Nile (Kenneth Branagh 2022), after the relative success of his recreation of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh 2017). With Branagh remaining in the director’s seat and Michael Green once again writing the screenplay, the setting and story may be different but much of the core ingredients are the same. Nevertheless, one unique challenge in approaching any depiction of Christie’s novels on screen is the realisation that the majority of the audience may already know the method used, and identity of the murder – not an ideal situation for a whodunnit film. Added to this, are competing film reconstructions of the murder mystery. Going as far back as John Guillermin’s version in 1978 with the bombastically charismatic Peter Ustinov as Poirot, or even the television adaptation in 2004, with a wonderfully accurate representation of Poirot offered by David Suchet. Unfortunately, Branagh fails to overcome both these hurdles, in what is a mediocre adaptation, that is saved by its last forty minutes from being stultifying insipid.

The plot itself is of course a typically wonderful Christie concoction. Onboard the boat steamer Karnak on the river Nile in Egypt, Poirot is tasked with untangling a complex love triangle. Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), a wealthy American socialite has recently married Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), her best friend Jacqueline de Belleforts’ (Emma Mackay) former fiancé, who now stalks the newly wedded couple at every opportunity. Alas before Poirot can take any substantive action, Linnet is killed in her sleep. And so, Poirot’s task of solving the intricate conundrum begins, avoiding various red herrings along the way.

Branagh’s aesthetic approach as director causes problems for the film. His intention is obvious – the initial phase of the movie is imbued with bright, vibrant lyrical colours designed to give off a sense of hallucinatory unreality. Once the murder has been discovered, the colour pallet is far more sombre and neutral, overwhelmingly darker and greyer. Such an overt cinematic technique seems peculiarly unoriginal from an experienced director as Branagh. The amount of explicit foreshadowing is simply ostentatious. This is not to mention instances of a crocodile leaping up to devour a seagull, a snake attempting to strike Linnet, or a champagne bottle opening like the sound of a bullet.  

Stemming from the same unoriginality, are clunky backstories wedged into the screenplay by Green to provide some character motivation. The worst of these is that of Poirot himself, whose lost love interest we briefly see in black and white flashbacks. Branagh’s Poirot is subsequently portrayed as a consistently emotively expressive individual, attached to the case not really because he is a detective, but rather as someone who understands the power of true love. This is a striking difference to the clinically detached, logical and deliberately asexual Poirot of Christie’s novels and Suchet’s television series. Another unwanted distortion of the original story is the replacement of the affable mediocrity of Captain Hastings with the character of Bouc (Tom Bateman) previously seen in Murder on the Orient Express. Why Hastings, who’s innate chemistry as a character with Poirot functions as that of Watson to Holmes, has been axed is a mystery in and of itself. Safe to say Bouc is no replacement.

The select few redeeming factors are the delightfully extravagant costume design by Abi Groves and Amanda Willgrave, displaying a kaleidoscopic range of colour tones.  Whilst most of the cast struggle to have any real effect, Emma Mackey as Jacqueline de Bellfort and Jennifer Saunders as Marie Van Schuyler provided some much needed on screen dynamism. Ultimately though, it is the intensity of Christie’s story creation, independent from anything else, that despite the first half of the film, make the latter half compelling.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Review by Cat Early

Upon the announcement and subsequent release of Michael Showalter’s new biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), it would have been an understatement to say that my initial reaction was to be somewhat skeptical of it. We are, after all, living through an era in which biopics have become immensely popular (and profitable), with productions gaining notoriety by banking on the gimmick of casting high-profile stars to play high-profile figures – Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018), Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher, 2019), and the recent House of Gucci (Ridley Scott, 2021) all being examples that come to mind in this respect. So, when it was revealed that Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield would star alongside each other to play the infamous Bakker couple, my expectations were understandably low, as I assumed that this film would be destined to become nothing more than one more Oscar-bait biopic in the lengthy string of hollow nomination attempts.

What I received instead was a flawed, but nonetheless incredibly genuine portrayal of the life and accomplishments of Tammy Faye Bakker, a controversial figure remembered by the public today primarily due to her career as one of America’s most popular televangelists in the 1980s, the scandal that brought down her empire in the 1990s, and her current reigning status as one of the queer community’s largest icons today. Far from critical of Tammy Faye’s actions, the film is surprisingly sympathetic in how it goes about portraying and justifying its titular character, chronicling her journey from the misunderstood eldest child of a working-class religious family to one of the country’s wealthiest and most revered spiritual figures to a disgraced criminal finding solace in her community once more.

The film can often feel nakedly honest in how it addresses some of the events of Tammy Faye’s life – namely the inclusion of and refusal to shy away from the multiple allegations made towards her husband, Jim Bakker, or the sensitive and alarmingly historically accurate recreation of Tammy Faye’s notorious interview with a gay AIDS patient at the height of the AIDS crisis. These snapshots forge an image of Tammy Faye, one that permeates after her death and manages to shift and reframe the narrative surrounding a, possibly misguided, but ultimately compassionate woman whose legacy until now may have largely been misconstrued by the uncharitable media of the era.The Eyes of Tammy Faye is honest in its title in that it doesn’t often concern itself with the views or opinions of others in the film – this is truly Tammy Faye’s film. Tammy Faye does what she wants, what she needs to do, or what she feels is right in any given moment and we identify with that compulsion. Of course, Chastain’s performance is infallible, and Garfield holds his own in his portrayal of the more ambiguously motivated Jim Bakker. The film is far from phenomenal, but what it does demonstrate is an authentic and deeply human need to clarify the motivations and actions of a woman mischaracterised by the world she lived in.


Review by Ciaran Drohan

In the mid-1970s, a friend visited Brian Eno while he was recovering in hospital after a car crash. Before leaving, she put on a record of classical harp music, however the volume was quite low and the music blended into the sound of rain, hospital machinery and distant chatter. This moment was when ambient music was first divined in the mind of Brian Eno. A music that, according to him, ‘didn’t impose itself on your space but created a landscape that you could belong to.’ In many ways Memoria is ambient cinema. It is the first English language film by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and it creates a world only completed by the audience’s entrance into it – especially when seen in cinemas.

The film stars Tilda Swinton who plays Jessica, a Scottish botanist in Colombia. In the opening scene of the film, she is abruptly awoken by a loud noise ‘like a big concrete ball that falls into a metal well which is surrounded by seawater’. She assumes that it is construction work, however it quickly becomes clear that she is experiencing these sounds alone. A number of inexplicable events occur: people she meets disappear and a doctor she believes to be dead is confirmed to be alive. 

The narrative unfurls slowly while the camera holds on shots for up to five, ten or twenty minutes. We see Jessica wake up and get out of bed in real time, accompanied by extensive still shots of nature and an uninterrupted jazz number. These lengthy, sedentary scenes allow the eye to wander from the main subject around the whole frame, really taking in the background details and becoming accustomed to the setting. It is almost akin to looking at a painting in an art gallery. In fact, this film was released in US cinemas so that no two screenings would happen concurrently, making the film into a sort of travelling exhibition. 

To complement the extended shots, the sound design also succeeds in creating an enveloping space to enter. In a scene where Jessica and her husband chat at a table in a bustling square, the background sounds of chatter and activity are expertly mixed by sound designer Akritcharlerm Kalayanamitr creating a scene that is absolutely immersive and a refreshing antidote to the perspex barrier of CG that diminishes the tangibility of a film. In a rural scene later in the film, the sounds of distant howler monkeys, the gentle gushing of a stream and wind rushing through foliage elevates the immersion to a new height rewarding the audience’s patience with an inviting sensory experience. 

Brian Eno described the ambient music he made saying that it is more like a place you go rather than a journey you are taken on, when comparing it to more traditional forms. While there is a loose plot that stitches the scenes together and leads to a stunning, fantastical conclusion, for me this film primarily succeeds in creating a sense of place for the audience to explore and become involved with. 

Nightmare Alley

Review by Cathal Eustace

Nightmare Alley was fun, sexy and I liked it. However I only liked it– let me elaborate. This film will not be a classic but who can foretell the future– Regardless there’s nothing exceptionally strong in the narrative. You could watch the first 30 minutes of the film and predict the forthcoming plot easily, with a miniscule margin of error. Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) shares much in common with the likes of Icarus or Dr Faustus. As soon as we are introduced to Carlisle we know he’s doomed to fly too close to the sun. This isn’t achieved through clever preordination or allusions to Carlisle’s fate, you just know it’s going to happen. You’ve seen and felt these story beats before, you’ve watched this type of protagonist walk this path, and personally I gained no satisfaction from the realisation of my prophecies.

Narrative shortcomings aside, Nightmare Alley has some beautiful moments. Sweeping camera shots make you feel like you’re watching There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007). Del Toro’s cinematographer Dan Lausten has certainly had fun whilst shooting the treacherous streets of pre-WW2 America. Between mud soaked carnival stages or swanky big-city offices, Nightmare Alley features numerous gorgeous costumes and sets. Del Toro’s idiosyncratic grime-meets-gruesome-meets-camp style is ever present in Nightmare Alley. Baudy circus tents and ball rooms make for an excellent playground for the film’s star studded cast. Nightmare Alley has become another reason for me to celebrate Bradley Cooper’s versatility. Granted he has a penchant for Oscar-bait, however Stanton Carlisle’s silent yet devious demeanour, set against Cooper’s manic performance in the newly released Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021), or his lovesick bipolarity in Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012) gives us plenty of reason to think of Cooper as the best atypical leading man that Hollywood still feels it needs. 

Cooper aside; Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe and more all carry their weight in Nightmare Alley. It’s not Licorice Pizza nor Silver Linings Playbook and I’m not going to watch it again, However Nightmare Alley is still an enjoyable enough experience to warrant an afternoon in the cinema and a few quid spent on popcorn and a ticket.