Monday, July 09, 2018

Hotel Artemis – a dystopian ‘Casualty’ for felons (Movie House cinemas from Friday 20 July)

Los Angeles in the year 2028. The privatisation of water companies has led to city-wide rioting. A criminal’s brother is shot while escaping a botched bank job. They head to a secret hospital for felons run up on the penthouse floor of the once-sophisticated but now dilapidated Hotel Artemis. It’s private wards – of which we only see four – have art deco detailing. They’ve been fitted with hi-tech diagnostic equipment, robotic surgery and a rather neat 3D organ printer. A very apt premise for Northern Ireland audiences given the domestic hosepipe ban and the NHS70 celebrations!

The night shift seems set to be busy and bloody with a floor full of sick criminals who have taken out this dark form of health insurance, and the streets full of heavily-armoured cops, angry members of the public and criminal gangs taking advantage of the mayhem,

Jodie Foster plays the 70-year-old struck-off doctor who hasn’t stepped outside her highly secure ward for over 20 years. ‘Nurse’ is somewhat of a benign Miss Hannigan (from Annie) who drinks to manage the pain of the memory of her son’s death while caring for the vulnerable (like a modern-day Greek God Artemis). Walking up and down the green-wallpapered corridors with a very particular gait, she responds to medical situations flagged up on her ever-present tablet computer. Foster plays the most colourful character in the script.

The rest of the ensemble cast for a long time strangely feel like they have fallen out of a Cluedo film. Sterling K. Brown plays the mastermind whose injured brother has been checked into the Waikiki suite. Up the corridor in the Nice suite, silent assassin Sofia Boutella is recovering from a simple bullet wound. Arms dealer Charlie Day provides the comedy in Acapulco, while a character played by Jeff Goldblum is being rushed in to take up the last room. The overworked hero of the piece is Orderly Dave Bautista who doubles up as security, building maintenance and medical assistant.

It’s a story of physical and mental hiding and escape for Foster and Brown’s characters. The external world’s demons continue to haunt them when inside the prison-like hospital. Redemption requires a degree of unshackling and stepping out into the unknown to taste the new dawn. In a better film, it could have been tolerably clichéd. Instead, the vital signs of Hotel Artemis remain flat.

The film’s first half is its best. It is writer Drew Pearce’s first time in the director’s seat and he is to be applauded for hiding lots of detail from the audience and allowing their list of questions to merrily stack up unanswered for a long time, adding to the feeling of mystery and satisfying revelation as the answers are finally revealed at just the right time.

However, this level of control does not extend to all aspects of the film. Some plot points are so well signposted – labelled in the case of the power outlets – that they lessen the fulfilment and weaken what could have been a much better neo-noir film. Zachary Quinto’s character is one dimensional and his phalanx of henchmen are wordlessly brawnful. And aspects of the dialogue are repetitive to the point of irritation.

The medley of hand-to-hand killing provides an ending that well befits the mood of the 94-minute movie which is surprisingly generous in the fate provided for its main characters.

Hotel Artemis is released on Friday July 20 across the UK and Ireland and is being screened at Movie House cinemas.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Preview of 2018 John Hewitt International Summer School (23-28 July)

This year’s John Hewitt International Summer School runs in Armagh between Monday 23 and Saturday 28 July. The programme prominently features a quote from John Hewitt’s The Frontier:
“We pass here into another allegiance: expect new postage stamps, new prices, manifestos, and brace ourselves for the change. But the landscape does not alter…”

The festival theme of ‘facing change: shifting borders and allegiances’ pervades the week of talks, poetry, music, and debate …

Monday 23 July > The opening address on Transcending Boundaries of the Past and of the Future will be delivered at 11.15am by Dr Martin Mansergh, a former Fianna Fáil Minister of State at the Departments of Finance and Arts. Later at 4.30pm, Peter Osborne will chair a panel discussing why the Civil Rights movement was replaced by the violent conflict. He’ll be joined around the table by Gregory Campbell, Colm Gildernew, Trevor Ringland and Brig Rodgers. And from 7pm, Malachi O’Doherty will be in conversation with author David Park about his recent novel Travelling in a Strange Land and photographer Sonya Whitefield (whose exhibition accompanying the book will be on display in The Market Place Theatre & Arts Centre throughout the Armagh festival).

Tuesday 24 July > Facing change: the identity perspective is the title of Nabeel Goheer’s talk at 4.30pm. He’s assistant secretary general at the Commonwealth Secretariat. (The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organisation with 54 member countries that promotes peace, democracy, human rights and development.) At 8.30pm Duke Special returns to the summer school with Ulaid, with a mix of contemporary songwriting and traditional music.

Wednesday 25 July > Emeritus Professor Arthur Aughey will deliver the Centre for Cross Border Studies’ lecture at 9.45am. Later that afternoon at 4.30pm, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh will discussing Writing & Refugees with Ian Duhig, who recently edited an anthology of work from immigrant communities in Leeds. That will be followed by the launch of Mariusz Smiejek’s exhibition of photographs – Daily Lives: Asylum Seekers in Italy and Ireland – at 6pm.

Thursday 26 July > Linen Hall Library will share some of their rich political collection in an illustrated presentation at 2.45pm about their archive which documents activities and views of all parties to the conflict and subsequent peace process. At 4.30pm, Kelly Andrews, Kellie Turtle and Betty Carlisle will look back on the anniversaries of the Civil Rights movement and the Representation of the People Act 1918 and ask whether there is Unfinished Business in establishing equal rights between women and men. And at 7pm in The Man From God Knows Where, writers and broadcasters, Jane Cassidy and Maurice Leyden will tell the story in words and music of Thomas Russell, a soldier, a revolutionary and the first librarian of the Linen Hall Library.

Friday 27 July > Emeritus Professor Monica McWilliams will delve into her recent research project at Ulster University to talk about Women waging peace: the challenges encountered in making and implementing the Good Friday Agreement at 9.45am.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Dublin Oldschool – a cinematic tale of two prodigal sons beset by poetry (QFT until 5 July)

While it opens with pumping music and a poetic voiceover, that in no way qualifies Dublin Oldschool to be labelled as Dublin’s version of Trainspotting.

This new film follows DJ Jason (Emmet Kirwan) and his drug-taking, sometimes drug-dealing, friends as they have hazy, crazy adventures across Ireland’s capital, running from the police, running from each other, and ultimately running from themselves.

The emotional thread driving the story is the strained reunion of two brothers who have to decide whether blood is thicker than (cans of) lager. The city of Dublin looks well with its maze of back streets and off-the-beaten-track shops providing the backdrop to much of the story.

Emmet Kirwan has a face shaped by a thousand tales and grabs attention as the film’s lead when he is on screen. (He also wrote and starred in the original play of the same name.) Given Jason’s hectic and itinerant lifestyle over the weekend depicted by the film, his lack of stubble is remarkable, perhaps even miraculous. Long-lost bedraggled brother Daniel is a heroin addict – a less recreational addict – and is played by a hirsute Ian Lloyd Anderson (the other half of the original two-man show).

While Jason’s ex, Gemma (Seána Kerslake), adds a further broken relationship to the mix, it’s another woman – Lisa, played by Sarah Greene – who continually steals scenes with a wee sideways look or a good line, yet her character is never fully developed.

Directed and co-written by Dave Tynan, at its best Dublin Oldschool reminds me of the self-discovery masterpiece Daphne. But the obsession with performance poetry proves to be a stylish distraction and while a succession of house parties and a rave in a rural idyll are musically upbeat, the film ends weakly having celebrated drug-taking without anyone feeling the pain.

Dublin Oldschool is being screened at Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 5 July.