This Week on Demand: 18/05/2014

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Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

Engaging and exhausting in approximately equal measure, Michel Gondry’s movie-length chat with the noted linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky is a melding of minds that serves mostly to melt our own. It’s a slight shame that that’s less for any dialectic depths it plumbs than the dizzy dichotomy of sound and image the animated offering entails. Chomsky’s ambling ideas, diluted for a Gondry burdened by the barriers of language and logic—those instances wherein he struggles to keep up are superbly self-deprecating—demand and deserve a directorial approach that foregrounds them. But if Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? seems not to serve its subject, that’s only for the fact that it’s actually about Gondry. Here he has cheekily made a movie more about itself and its maker’s unique, oblique than anything else; it’s a film that evolves, awkwardly but intriguingly, before our eyes and his. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Life of a King

It’s odd, the effect an actor’s aging has upon us; you realise, watching Life of a King, just how old Cuba Gooding Jr. has come to look, the wrinkles on his face a strangely stirring reminder of the youth they’ve overtaken. It’s in his exploitation of this quality that director Jake Goldberger does best, a subtle the like of which his script struggles to hit. Co-written with the equally inexperienced David Scott and Dan Wetzel, it’s a terribly typical, formulaic film that marries the con-gone-straight structure with a sports movie story applied to chess. That Goldberger hasn’t the faintest idea how to shoot the game cinematically is a serious drawback, though given the boring beat-by-beat approach he takes on the way to the grand finale, it’s no great movie from which it detracts. Gooding Jr. heads a cast that gives it their all; if only it were enough. SO-SO. ~RD


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Like Someone in Love

“When you take a tree that is rooted in the ground, and transfer it from one place to another, the tree will no longer bear fruit. And if it does, the fruit will not be as good as it was in its original place.” So said Abbas Kiarostami of his reasons for remaining in his native Iran in the midst of the artistic oppression that came in the wake of the revolution of 1979. Yet with the one-two punch of Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love he has progressed to prove himself quite, quite wrong. Here is a film as extraordinary as any in this filmmaker’s career, an astonishingly-crafted and masterfully-executed drama whose ever-evolving eye on its characters is as rich a rumination on identity-as-construct as recent cinema has had. Its story, pristinely performed, is best left unspoiled; it unfolds with a tension to put any thriller to shame. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Men at Lunch

Men at Lunch concludes, quite rightly, with the observation that the identity of its eponymous subjects—the eleven men immortalised in “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”—isn’t as important as the ideas they represent: this image of Americana attests, in the end, the essence of the American dream. But given the same sentiment is reached at the start as well as the end of the film, its prolonged effort to ascertain those identities in the middle feels like feeble filler, a knowingly nonsensical tangent sandwiched between a modicum of insightful observances. Make no mistake: when it has the sense to focus on the socio-cultural repercussions of representation, Men at Lunch is a fine piece of work. More often, alas, it’s just faffing about, weakened all the more by the rote, repetitive narration read by Fionnula Flanagan. What a shame to lose sight of a good story for the sake of a red herring. SO-SO. ~RD


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Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America

There’s story to spare in Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America, which traces the career of the titular singer and the role of her brand of folk music in the social upheavals that occurred across it. Director Rodrigo H. Vila, who previously filmed the recording of what was to be Sosa’s final album, has an innate understanding of the power of her performance; he gives a good deal of his film over to concert footage, which does better to evidence the ideas at hand than any of the interviewees ever can. There’s a sense at times of a story too sprawling to tell, and the cultural complexities of the many countries through which Sosa’s career grows prove perhaps too much for the director to handle. Still, his use of the music excuses things admirably; a great documentary it ain’t, but it’s a film that communicates how special its subject was. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Mr. Morgan’s Last Love

That Mr. Morgan’s Last Love makes almost no efforts to make its emotional exploitation is less of an issue than the simple fact that it’s not much good at it at all. Sandra Nettelbeck’s script has a hold on the heartstrings like that of a weedy youth trying a tug-of-war with a rugby team. That brute force is our sensibility rushing to the rescue of our sensitivity; Nettelbeck’s efforts to tease forth tears are as earnest as they are unashamed, but the obvious approach she adopts en route are so cloyingly constructed they never hit home. Why Michael Caine—whose voice’s emotion has been parodied to perfection in The Trip—is made to offer his interpretation of an American accent is a mystery; the effort proves a distraction to diminish his usual effect. Some strong support from Clémence Poésy and Gillian Anderson is as welcome as it is, ultimately, futile. SO-SO. ~RD


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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.