Month: June, 2020

Rosie

Verdict: An enthralling Irish social realist drama that is painfully relevant here.

It wasn’t that long ago when heartbreaking stories of families living out the back of their cars hit the headlines in New Zealand. Although Rosie is set in Ireland, it’s a story that still picks at the raw nerve on New Zealand’s own housing problem. There are hints of Ken Loach’s or Mike Leigh’s kitchen sink dramas in this moving portrait of a working-class family who have fallen on desperately hard times. But you can replace the kitchen sink with a dash-board as this film focuses on a Dublin family who live out of their car.

Rosie, played with a focussed intensity by Sarah Greene (Normal People), finds herself living from hour to hour, juggling her four children’s needs while looking for a place to stay the night. There is a palpable sense of tension created through Paddy Breathnach’s taut directing as he captures the strain of a family’s good intentions and the situation thrust upon them. Working from a screenplay by writer Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), Breathnach’s pin-sharp drama is never manipulative or preachy, and gives a brutally honest account of their plight.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and like Loach’s Palme d’Or winning I, Daniel Blake, Rosie manages to capture little nuggets of hope and humour within the depths of the family’s desperate situation. But what sets this film apart is that it avoids the tropes common to many stories about poverty. Nowhere is there substance or physical abuse, or mental health issues. Rather, it focuses on the systemic poverty that they fall victim to. In one scene Rosie says that her family are “not homeless, just lost. We have lost our keys.” Her heartbreaking words echo the film’s thesis on dignity and goes a long way in highlighting the negative stigma that poverty often attracts.

Elegant and strikingly simple in its exposition, Rosie is an incredibly restrained film that hits all the right beats and leaves you with one of the more hauntingly powerful final images I’ve seen in cinema.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Trip to Greece

Ah it’s good to be back. Here’s my first review for the NZ Herald since lockdown began. The Trip to Greece:

Verdict: Worth the trip despite having been there and seen that.

Early in The Trip to Greece, Rob Brydon fittingly quotes Aristotle on the virtues of imitation. Although the birthplace of classical western narratives might be a perfect setting for such quotes, it also serves to shield this film against critical flak for doing just that; imitating itself. The critics have a point, The Trip to Greece is fairly much identical to the previous three outings (set in England, Italy, and Spain). But for good reason. The formula works.

A travelogue of sorts, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (who play fictionalised version of themselves) saunter from tourist site to restaurant, back to tourist site, while comically casting out quick witticisms and well-read eloquent prose about their surroundings. It’s all rather idyllic and you do wonder at times if it is going anywhere beyond their conversations and observations. The plot, such that it is, is fairly scant and the thinnest of the four Trip movies. But you don’t go to see a movie like this for the plot.

The self-aware Brydon and Coogan know how to laugh at themselves and tease each other about their skewed level of success, occasionally flirting with serious topics such as their own mortality. The result is an insightfully funny and sometimes thought provoking look at their lives. However, if you’ve seen any of the previous Trip films and found their impersonations and pedantic squabbling to be annoying, then this movie won’t convert you.

Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart), who has directed all four Trip movies, injects very little directorial flavour and settles, once again, on an observational approach, letting his two muses verbally run amock with what appears to be a loose script and plenty of ad-libbing. A surprisingly melancholic score does occasionally threaten to steer the film into more serious territory, and Coogan, who is perhaps more sombre than previous, looks to be the man to do it. But no. Brydon, Coogan, and Winterbottom appear to know what side their toast is buttered. Imitation is sometimes strangely comforting.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Streaming, streaming, streaming…

From Spike Jonze’s fascinating doco, Beastie Boys Story (pictured above), to Netfilx’s not so good White Lines (described by Gary Steel as “vapid”), and others make up the Witchdoctor’s latest round of streaming reviews here.

Here’s my bit on BBS…

Despite hitting the big time during my impressionable years, Beastie Boys were never my bag—a novelty act, sexist, brash, and, well, shit. But after watching Beastie Boys Story I might have to swallow my words. The two remaining members, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz (Adam Yauch died of cancer in 2012) stand in front of a live audience and tell their tale with the aid of a teleprompter, a few props and a giant video screen in the background. If you’ve ever seen an Apple live event, then you’ll recognise the similar setup (curiously, this is also an AppleTV+ release). But this is way more than a “woohoo” Tim Cook event. Long time video collaborator Spike Jones helms this film and injects plenty of his unique flavour, spicing up what is already a fascinating story. But what makes this documentary special is how Diamond and Horovitz reflect on their journey, touching on topics of shame, regret, passion and friendship. As anyone will tell you, a good music doco will have you Googling the act and streaming their music after. Hell, this doco is so good it’s got me trawling the stores for some Beastie vinyl.