Archive by Author

Review: Stories We Tell (2013

9 Sep

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By Patricia Tobin

Stories We Tell follows Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley in uncovering her very own family secrets. Following her mother’s death when she was eleven, Polley started growing close to her father, retired British actor Michael Polley.  Her parents’ tumultuous relationship was an open secret, and Polley soon discovers the truth behind her mother’s extramarital affairs that might change her life forever.

Polley’s investigation behind her family history includes interviews with relatives and close friends, and re-created home movies footage, shot on Super-8. This blend of actual interrogation and fictional sequences reveals not only the multiple versions a story often consists of, but also the idiosyncratic nature of human beings. The interviews showcase Polley’s earnest siblings giving candid anecdotes, but sometimes opposing views on their parents’ relationship. The fictional home movies are certainly nostalgic – they help give audience members a chance to imagine what really happened, and is perhaps, also a mechanism for Polley to cope with the past. In addition, Polley‘s father, Michael, provides the voiceover narration of his own personal account, and Polley deliberately includes scenes of her father rehearsing the lines. This fusion of the real and the not-real plays with the fleeting nature of truth and memory, and questions just which account could be trusted. Furthermore, this interweaving of juxtaposing scenes recognises that all the different sides of any story are just so human.

Polley’s deeply personal tale encapsulates the core elements of every family – love, unity, and unconditional acceptance.  It acknowledges certain issues of belonging and aspects of identity as well, but the subject of family eventually becomes overshadowed by the notion of storytelling.

The most striking feature of Stories We Tell is Polley’s assertive authorship that shines in every scene. Throughout the documentary, her careful and calculated editing is highly evident – after all, she pieces together her family history to form a compelling narrative. Her authorial voice is firm and it is never lost amongst the numerous voices. This highly conscious, metafictional quality of the film gives rise to her own side of the story.

Stories We Tell is heart-warming and poignant, using intimate tales to present a film that appeal to all. As a documentary about storytelling, Polley’s discourse of intimacy and authenticity has a distinctly human feel. Polley is not afraid to reveal personal vulnerabilities and aspects about infidelity. Ultimately, Stories We Tell draws from the age-old tradition of storytelling. Narratives bring families together, or even apart, but most of all, it moulds individuals to who they are today.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at http://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

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Review: The East (2013)

3 Sep

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By Patricia Tobin

The East is an environmental espionage thriller that presents an intriguing and daringly innovative mystery. Co-writer/actress Brit Marling stars as an undercover spy, code-named “Sarah Moss”, who infiltrates The East, an eco-terrorist collective. Led by the charismatic, saint-like figure Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), The East leads a bohemian lifestyle, practicing freeganism and bizarre practices of cleaning each other. At the same time, the group ruthlessly plots against heartless corporations who poison rivers and profit from lethal drugs.

 

The East is perhaps not a typical thriller per se, but it does have an underlying tone of suspense throughout. The film effortlessly retains the audience’s attention, anticipating the collective’s next move. In addition, The East’s excellent pacing injects a certain infectious vigour that propels the story forward. On the other hand, the film gradually manoeuvres towards the drama terrain with glimpses of character backstories and an unnecessary romance. Predictably enough, Marling and Skarsgård exchange longing stares that quickly become tiresome.

 

The crisp colours that represent the cold, corporate climate and the warm undertones that belong to the hippie lifestyle of The East eventually become indistinguishable. Co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij deliberately interweaves sequences from the different societies with abrupt cuts, to form an unforgiving world filled with madness, vengeance and brutality. It is easy to see which side Batmanglij leans towards, but The East rejects any clear indication for a good-versus-evil dichotomy. Ultimately, the film favours the underdog, but it dares to show the startling consequences of bearing an anti-corporate message.

 

Marling portrays Moss as a clever and resourceful agent, but her reasons behind her actions are highly unclear. At one point, she half-jokingly asks her boyfriend, “Why do I have this job?”. Her motivations are never addressed again, but Marling’s likeability and sharp acting skills attempt to make up for this oversight. Similarly, Skarsgård’s trademark broodiness and moral ambiguity is oddly charming as well. The supporting cast is decent too ¡ª Ellen Page’s Izzie is a radical extremist who has daddy issues and Tony Kebbell’s Doc is the team medic who struggles with his own dark past.Lastly, Patricia Clarkson stars as Moss’s stern-faced boss; her icy tone and glacial demeanour certainly gives a lasting impression.

 

It is easy to dismiss The East for its cumbersome cliches, the romantic storyline is redundant and regrettably, there is a token black guy in the group. However, the film’s immensely gripping storyline is irrefutably engrossing. The East boldly presents strikingly modern ethical dilemmas, and its refreshing take on an often overlooked topic in Hollywood should definitely be rewarded.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film athttp://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

MIFF 2013: Bastards

14 Aug

By Brent Morrow

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French master Claire Denis’ latest launches into being a frame-spanning gush of water, with odd drops catching light as if specks and scratches on a particularly worn film print. Denis and regular DP Agnès Godard’s approach is as filmic as ever, despite having shot Bastards on the digital Red Epic, allowing for a murkier palette of grey-browns and as low lighting as possible to flatter the seediness of its world. The nocturnal deluge continues, reflected on the walls aside a pacing man and an unmarked envelope, then drowning a crime scene we learn is his suicide. A young woman wearing only heels wanders stupefied down a cobbled street. Denis elliptically feels her way into the mood, the narrative, seducing an active and attentive viewer, and probably baffling or boring a lazy one. Neither viewer will have to work as hard as for the overwhelming L’intrus, as Bastards sits closer to White Material and Trouble Every Day on the temporal/metaphorical ambiguity level. With this film it’s essential to ponder on how the quasi-detective fiction, puzzle-like manner plays on one’s associative reading of the narrative.

We wonder if the man killed himself unable to bear with some harm done to the girl (Lola Créton), or conversely if her incident somehow resulted from his death in nihilistic grief. The “answer” such as it is will for some time obscure that connection before becoming a good deal more complicated and disturbing than your mind could have inferred. This opening is not so removed from the subjectivity of Beau Travail and White Material in which the main characters seem to reflect upon their transformative experiences while riding public transport, informing the diegesis. That is, we could be privvy to the images conjured by Vincent Lindon’s navy merchant as he attempts to make sense of the shocking but vague details giving to him by his sister about her family’s recent traumas.

From here we assume Lindon seeks revenge on the wealthy tycoon (a Mabuse-like Michel Subor) whose money-lending is to blame for the aforementioned suicide of Lindon’s brother-in-law. This “revenge”, while not revealed to be a false lead (he stays at the apartment next to Subor, after all, and is shown Googling articles about the man), is at least distracted by or refracted as an affair with Subor’s young wife (Chiara Mastroianni), and in classic noir fashion (think Chinatown), turns drastically hopeless. Here, too, a vision of Mastroianni and police coming across her son’s wrecked bike in the woods, wedged between shots of Lindon lying in bed. His imagination predicting the revenge? An actual flash-forward? The narrative only approaches this again when Subor returns home with the boy to retrieve the bike. Denis allows us to now suspect Subor, or else an accident. Misdirection, perhaps, but it’s in the sowing of those seeds of viewer mistrust that Denis’ ambiguity makes good on the noir premise, and the title.

If Denis’ films are about the push and pull of family, the bittersweet or traumatic transition between homes (Friday Night, quite literally), Bastards follows suit. Lindon, beckoned back, attempts to clean up the mess out of some obligation to his family—yet he had eloped to the seas years prior, escaping them. His actions throughout the film are thus rather aloof, in self-interest, and ultimately he finds himself at odds with everybody. Mastroianni is tempted away from her comfortable family life by the masculine but benevolent presence of the sailor—demonstrated in one vintage moment of Denis sensuality in which she (both shes) gazes at the contours of Lindon’s muscled back beneath his shirt—before resolutely affirming her position come the end. And Créton presumably rebels via dangerous sexuality, but perhaps she is in fact obedient, masochistically so—the rotten fruit of bourgeois depravity. Denis customarily works with close-ups (so often here profiles meeting the edge of the frame with an ear centrally composed), barely visible faces we must cling to for all the uncertainty. Yet Créton remains impenetrable to us; one earnest declaration of love aside, she is entranced by Dionysian youth. Tindersticks take a cue from her: their score is a hypnotic stir of pleasure, ruin, and menace, more than crucial in establishing the film’s mood.

Bastards could be taken to task for its ultimately lurid content, where contrastly the non-hyperbolic universality of 35 Rhums and the microcosmic reality to the violence of White Material rise above. A metaphorical reading, the central family as symbolic of the aforementioned “bourgeois depravity”, may be too vague. Nonetheless, one can not ignore the ebb and flow of perturbing, violent films with the lighter, more tender efforts that make up Denis’ oeuvre (it is more accurate to say each film contains a complex combination of those extremes). Bastards is likely the most accomplished of her darker films, if for no other reason than the now-expert fractured assemblage of beguiling images towards a disquieting atmosphere and final impression. This is exciting cinema.

Brent Morrow watches A LOT of films and writes about them at Technicolor Red (http://bmtr.wordpress.com/). 

MIFF 2013: Capturing Dad

14 Aug

Ryota Nakano, 2012

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By Patricia Tobin

Capturing Dad follows the tale of two young sisters, 17-year-old Koharu (Nanoka Matsubara) and 20-year-old Hazuki (Erisa Yanagi), who receive some unexpected news from their mother (Makiko Watanabe). Their estranged father is dying, and are sent by their mother to visit him on his deathbed. However, he soon passes away before they arrive in the rural town of Ashigara. The girls now have to attend a funeral for a man they barely know, while confronting family truths and uncomfortable situations.

Capturing Dad succeeds with its stellar cast, primarily Makiko Watanabe as the stern, but caring mother. Watanabe displays deep motherly love and care, while balancing a cheeky, almost child-like demeanour when teasing her children. Matsubara and Yanagi are also promising young actresses, and provide some delightful moments as bickering sisters. 

Unfortunately, Capturing Dad ultimately suffers from poor execution, primarily under Nakano’s  direction. The film largely takes place on the day of the father’s funeral, where tense family dynamics would be great for the screen. However, Nakano does not seize or fully explore the all-too-common friction and strain among family and distant relatives. 

Capturing Dad aims to create a playful, off-kilter feel for dealing with the morbid subject of death and loss. However, it gradually becomes unclear what tone the film is trying to encapsulate. There are scenes that are genuinely weird and hilarious, including an ongoing joke about breasts among the tight-knit family. At the same time, there is an underlying sense of detached irony throughout Capturing Dad, which undermines the film’s heart-warming moments. 

In particular, the sisters’ younger half-brother Chihiro (Kaito Kobayashi) often serves as a reminder for familial kindness and care. Donning a crisp, white shirt and suspenders, the adorable Kobayashi attempts to befriend his sisters, but Capturing Dad‘s bemused attitude results in the sibling relationship being rather contrived.  

The ending, too, consists of a surprise element that feels utterly out of place, perhaps even unnecessarily forced. Capturing Dad struggles in finding a firm take on familial relations and grim matters. The film intends to retain a spirited outlook throughout, but its light-hearted touch slowly becomes muffled and unclear, turning sweet moments sour. 

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film athttp://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

MIFF 2013: O Apostolo – The Apostle

14 Aug

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By Gabby Easter

A gothic tale of the living dead, lost souls and redemption, The Apostle is a spooky stop-animation with a hint of a twisted Grimm’s fairy tale.

Ramon, voiced by Galician Carlos Blanco, is a second generation thief who escapes from prison, driven by an insatiable thirst for hidden treasure that he hopes will be his way out of his old life. Posing as a pilgrim on the path to Santiago de Compostela, a strange old man leads Ramon awry, promising a good nights feed and a decent rest. Don Cesareo (Xose Manuel Olveira), the creepy village priest, complete with a larger-than-head nose and a Vampiric feel, screams evil and untrustworthy, but Ramon is unaware of the threat until it’s too late. The quiet little town turns out to harbour secrets more sinister than just stolen jewels.

Meanwhile, and yes, it’s a typical ‘meanwhile’ scenario, the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela is on the hunt for some high profile pilgrims who have mysteriously gone missing. Paul Naschy voices the impudent, corrupt archpriest, intent on working his way up to papacy in style and comfort, with a penchant for fine wine and good food.

The characters are caricatures in a somewhat predictable plot, but the suspense, humour and craftily made sets are the redeeming features in the first stop-animation to come out of Spain. The not-so-subtle swings at the Catholic Church, almost entirely made through the Archbishop, are balanced out by heavy themes of redemption and salvation.

Almost three years in the making, and partially financed through Crowdfunding, the dedication and detail put into director Fernando Cortizo’s debut feature film is easily recognised, with a Goya nomination and a steady run of screenings at film festivals across the globe. Despite a shaky plot and the occasional technical mishap, Cortizo has produced a stop-animation that’s a little too spooky for the little ones, but eerie and entertaining enough for an older crowd as well.

Gabby Easter lives in Melbourne and writes for Time Out magazine.

Thoughts on MIFF

11 Aug

By Cam Grace

Is anyone allowed to say that they don’t like Iggy Pop? I know it sounds rather incredible, but there I said it. Feel better now? I know I do.

Are you as fed up as I am with ‘Alternative Rock’ and the way it’s canonised and mythologised out of all rational proportion? Nobody in the real world ever talks about The Replacements or Big Star and do you want to know why? Because their canon is largely rubbish. The MC5 never arrived at Heathrow amid a shower of tickertape with the word ‘Legends’ stamped on their foreheads simply because no one bought the records. However, if every hipster muso that cited them as an influence had actually purchased one of their albums, the band (or their surviving members) would today be reclining on yachts in the South of France. Go figure.

We live in a world where artists with mass appeal are automatically rendered as suspect or artistically inferior. Nowhere is this bigotry more evident than in Backbeat, the music component of The Melbourne International Film Festival. Each year the prohibitive tyrants of cool at MIFF (probably resplendent in goatees and Ramones t shirts) wheel out the same tired roster of movies featuring ‘good taste’ alternative artists. Featured among this year’s stellar roll call are Miss Nikki and The Tiger Girls, The Descendents. Warumpi Band, Death and Bikini Kill – artists so obscure, we can’t be completely sure they actually ever existed. Which begs the question. Hasn’t anyone made a decent film about Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen or George Michael?. As far as I’m concerned, there’s every bit as much excitement contained within Petula Clark’s Greatest Hits than anything released on Sub Pop. The world is too scared to admit it but Shirley Bassey is cooler than The Strokes. Fact.

My Backbeat wish list might look something like this: Fleetwood Mac – a mélange of maniacal drug abuse, mental illness and inter-band adultery – a soap opera as compelling as their glittering pop singles. Problem: They sold billions of records. Jackson Browne – a life of political and environmental activism, familial suicide, spouse bashing allegations and a teenage dalliance with Nico. Problem: Sold truck loads of records (not to mention a worrying association with the LA Yacht Rock Scene). What about Pink Floyd or The Eagles and the perplexing internal chemistry that inspired some of the greatest discs of the last century. Problem:…..I think you get the picture.

I don’t need to delve into the semiotics of cool to explain the ongoing appeal of Patti Smith any more than I could explain Iggy Pop’s devoted fan base.
Everyone is familiar with the image of the outlaw hero. Flirtations with art, drugs and the avant garde are ubiquitously present and correct, but the real deal breaker in terms of preserving a reputation appears to lie in the perception that rather than being great artists who never sold any records, they are actually feted because they never sold any records. It’s been at least twenty years since a decent platter was released with the name Iggy Pop on it, but ‘The Godfather of Punk’ has been able to recline comfortably by selling off his songs to sell Nike footwear and car insurance on television commercials. Gimme Danger indeed. Similiarly, John Lydon has hoovered up more cash spruiking Country Life Butter on British TV than he made in 30 years as a recording artist. The truth remains that if you sell your songs for commercial gain, you are forever removed from the artistic experience.

Despite an official program which boasts full page advertisements for upcoming concerts by Don Mclean and Cyndi Lauper, MIFF’s Backbeat program has once again been swamped with the tedious clutter of alternative mythologies. You can form a disorderly queue behind those of us who live by the maxim that good taste is boring but in the end, I guess the cool people know who the cool people are.

MIFF 2013: Made of Stone

11 Aug

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By Cam Grace

Reunions don’t come more hotly anticipated than that of the recently reformed Stone Roses. An earth shattering, era defining debut album, years in the wilderness and a perplexing internal chemistry which exploded amid a very public meltdown.- all tempting ingredients for a documentarian.

Shane Meadows, as both a fan of the band and a director is faced with an almost impossible brief – to construct a film which celebrates the enigma of the Roses without shattering it. Not only does he achieve this but he somehow manages to deliver a stirring testament to the power of pop music.

Made of Stone appears on three acts: a triumphant free gig at tiny Warrington Hall, a mini tour in Europe and finally a colossal homecoming at Heaton Park, Manchester in front of 75,000 people. Intermittent segments detailing the band’s history include some tremendous unseen footage of the members as scooter rats and some hilarious early TV interviews. Bust ups with management and labels are touched on but the internal tumult that drove a wedge between them 20 years before, is largely sidestepped.

Meadows film is more centered on the concept of hero worship. It explores what it means to adore a group of musicians beyond basic and economic rationality. It’s also about identity. The Stone Roses are four people, or no one at all.

Interestingly, the closing credits divulge the use of a “re-recording mixer”. Anyone who saw The Roses perform back at The Metro in ’96 or during their recent Festival Hall gig will attest that Ian Brown is the most erratic of live vocalists. That some of this film had obviously been sonically doctored (particularly a suspiciously pitch perfect 12 minute long Fools Gold which closes the film) – comes as no surprise to those of us with ‘the knowledge’

MIFF 2013: Stoker

8 Aug

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Chan-Wook Park, 2013

By Julia Mann

My strategy for MIFF is to book a whole lot of films I know little about, then sit back and enjoy the unexpected. Keeping this in mind, I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I anticipated some vampiric action in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker. It’s funny how the mind plays tricks, makes mental associations and perceives clues where perhaps none exist. Park does hint at the supernatural – the distant figure watching over the funeral (is it India’s father, back from the dead?), the multi-coloured, incandescent eyes shared by India and Charlie, and his tendency to appear without warning. I mean, the guy doesn’t eat, what’s more vampiric than that?

Ultimately, despite my misguided yearnings, this is not a film about undead bloodsuckers. It is instead a tense, twisting tale of family, of inheritance and of shoes. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) turns eighteen and loses her beloved father in a fiery car accident on the same day. In spite of her new adulthood, she behaves much like a child, using defiance and discordance as immature weapons. Widow and mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) futilely appeals to India, losing the battle with her own demons as well as the one bubbling within her child. The arrival of Uncle Charlie further fuels the fire between these two women as both are seduced by his powerful charisma. Matthew Goode is a revelation, impressing as the mysterious Charlie and in control of the fine line between sexy and psychotic.

While clearly set in the current world, Stoker rarely references modern times. The film takes on a timeless quality, combining costumes, cars and chattels from different eras. It’s a beautiful piece to watch and the pace is slow and seductive. Gorgeously constructed scenes are punctuated by violence, by slashes of crimson, but this is not the bloodbath you’d expect from Park. The film relies more on innuendo than gore and the questions it poses are even more disturbing. What lies behind Charlie and India’s matching, menacing eyes? What deep connection draws them closer? And finally, is your identity your own or nothing more than family inheritance?

Julia Mann likes all kinds of films, but mostly ones with Steven Seagal. She writes for US-based website Digital Hippos when the mood strikes.

MIFF 2013: Valentine Road

5 Aug

Marta Cunningham, USA, 2013

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By Patricia Tobin

Eighth-grader Larry King was an openly gay biracial teenager, who often cross-dressed when attending high school in Oxnard, California. A few days before Valentine’s Day, King walked into the middle of a basketball game, and asked his classmate, Brandon McInerney, to be his Valentine in front of his friends. On the morning of 12 February 2008, during a class session at a computer laboratory, McInerney shot King twice in the back of the head.

Marta Cunningham makes her directorial debut in Valentine Road, a documentary that unravels this American tragedy. Cunningham reveals the circumstances behind both King’s and McInerney’s upbringing, followed by the aftermath of this shocking crime. King came from a troubled past, who suffered under abusive foster parents to eventually, being placed with a caring family. McInerney, too, had a difficult childhood, as both his parents were reckless, drug addicts. McInerney had also befriended white supremacists, and was a suspected neo-Nazi as well.

Valentine Road also highlights the flawed system that surrounds this case. For example, several distressed classmates, who witnessed King’s brutal murder in the computer laboratory, were immediately taken away. Instead of attending to their needs, these teenage students were confined to a room and were forced to watch — of all movies — Jaws. The judicial system gets put into question too, as McInerney’s trial was repeatedly delayed and mistrial-ed. The strikingly polarised views of members from the Oxnard community shows that a much more complex, but disordered societal structure is at work.

One of the film’s most appalling moments concerns a juror who stated that McInerney’s action was a result from him “solving a problem”. In fact, many members of the jury appeared on an American talk show, and showed off their “Save Brandon” wristbands. McInerney’s teenage girlfriend also continues to stand by his side, following McInerney’s belief that “white people are now a minority”. The widespread sympathy for McInerney even extended to one of his defence attorneys, who tattooed “Save Brandon” on her wrist. In a surreal moment, she cried and declared her love for her client, citing that she “can’t explain it”, but that McInerney was “one of my favourite people on the planet”.

This resounding, bizarre support for McInerney is highly disturbing and hard to digest. It is easy to see where Cunningham’s sympathies lie, as the blatant intolerance and discrimination provokes both frustration and grief.  As teachers and psychologists openly disregard King’s plight, it is unfortunate that a modern American society still privileges the straight, white male. Valentine Road paints a horrifying case of victim-blaming, as one detective states, “They made a murder victim the cause of his own murder”.

Valentine Road is timely in the wake of racial issues sparked from the verdict of the Trayvon Martin shooting and America’s relentless gun-law debate. By interweaving personal testimonies and news reports, Cunningham illustrates the far-reaching consequences of this senseless killing and in particular, the repercussions on Oxnard’s own LGBT youth. Cheesy pop songs aside, Valentine Road aptly calls for a need for tolerance and justice for the often neglected communities in today’s world.

 

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film athttp://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

MIFF 2013: Good Vibrations

5 Aug
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By Cam Grace
Is life really as formulaic as biopics make it look? The plot trajectory of Good Vibrations is so clichéd and predictable that you could chart it with a ruler and a set square. The film is a genial and generous enough account of the life of Belfast music impresario Tom Hooley (Richard Donner) best known as the man who discovered The Undertones and other rough gems as the sectarian troubles of Northern Ireland raged around him during the late seventies.
Donner injects his role with a manic charisma that is at times charming and engaging. He unwittingly becomes a figurehead for the emergence of punk and an alternative Ulster. You’re never quite sure if he’s a genius or genuinely insane – “When it comes to punk, New York has the haircuts, London has the trousers, but Belfast has the reason!”.
Being a film about music, you’d expect it to sound good. It does. While offerings by David Bowie and The Stiff Little Fingers provide the film with a cuircuit busting energy, the movie dovetails in its second act into a low rent 24 Hour Party People. By the film’s closure, I found myself reticent to celebrate Hooley’s ‘triumphant victory’ – a standingly ovated benefit concert – a tribute to a man who had been celebrated into fantasy.

Cam Grace wrote this review. The rest is a beautiful mystery involving a degree of laziness when it comes to bylines.