Movie reviews: Calvary, Last Days on Mars, No Limbs, No Limits

Calvary ***

Movie reviews: Calvary, Last Days on Mars, No Limbs, No Limits

Blessed be the pure in heart, the Sermon on the Mount tells us, for they will see God. Such seems to be the immediate fate of genial parish priest Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary (15A), which opens with the Sligo-based Fr Lavelle hearing a confession which includes the promise to kill him in a week’s time. It’s not that Fr Lavelle is guilty of anything; the whole point, he is told, is that he will be killed for being a good priest, thus throwing into sharp relief the guilt of the Catholic Church in relation to its behaviour on the abuse of children. It’s a dramatic, provocative opening, but McDonagh — who writes and directs his follow-up to The Guard (2011) — appears to revel in the role of provocateur, as Fr Lavelle’s parishioners — among them Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran and Domhnall Gleeson — queue up to insult and degrade the priest and his position in the community. Not content with skewering the Catholic Church, McDonagh also unleashes a whole fusillade of broadsides at modern Ireland, blasting the banks, the property developers, the landowners and the politicians. Sounds fun, and for a time it is: McDonagh’s quirky characters are edgy, angry and brimming with bile, but also capable of hilarious whimsy. The uneven tone soon begins to grate as the story drifts away from Fr Lavelle’s plight in favour of pub-bore polemics from the ludicrously over-the-top supporting cast. Gleeson puts in one of the most thoughtful performances of an already excellent career as Lavelle, a former married man who has to contend with comforting his emotionally distraught adult daughter (Kelly Reilly) as he tries to figure out who might want to kill him, all the while struggling with his own faith.

The Last Days On Mars (15A) opens as a scientific mission to Mars, led by Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas), is wrapping up its final duties. When a last-minute expedition discovers the presence of ‘microscopic anomalies’ that suggests there was life on the planet at some point in the past, the mission is thrown into turmoil, not least because there are potentially lethal consequences to disturbing an alien microbe. Soon the fractious group — which includes Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams and Romola Garai — are at one another’s throats as arguments boil over about what they should do, but their disputes are soon put into perspective when some of the team, infected by the microbes, mutate into flesh-devouring zombie-like creatures. Directed by Ruari Robinson, The Last Days On Mars is a taut, atmospheric thriller that benefits hugely from Robbie Ryan’s cinematography and a superbly realised desolate Red Planet. There are few genre tropes here that sci-fi fans won’t have encountered before, as the zombie creatures lay siege to an increasingly diminishing human population while a massive dust-storm rolls in and the oxygen runs out, but the direction — and particularly the pacing — is drum-tight, and the performances are all solid. Where the movie excels is in contextualising the drama: there’s a fabulous sense of alienation and dislocation, as all the characters are aware of the cruel fact that even if they somehow manage to escape the marauding monsters, they are still millions of miles from real safety. Bleak and downbeat, but exhilaratingly tense and faithful to its genre conventions, The Last Days On Mars is a deftly delivered drama.

No Limbs, No Limits (PG) is a documentary about Cork woman Joanne O’Riordan, who was born with ‘Total Amelia’, a very rare syndrome that means she was born without arms or legs. How Joanne and family learned to live with ‘Total Amelia’ forms the core of Steven O’Riordan’s story, which documents the irrepressible Joanne’s achievements to date — the highlight being her address to the United Nations — and is in a nutshell a celebration of the human spirit. The film isn’t quite feature-length at 70 minutes, and Steven O’Riordan’s documentary-making skills are far from polished, but the story packs a powerful punch, particularly the footage of the baby Joanne and her absolute refusal to allow her ‘limits’ determine what she can or cannot achieve. The word ‘inspirational’ is all too often abused these days; the subject of No Limbs, No Limits fully deserves the accolade.

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