Talking Movies

October 1, 2014

Life After Beth

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Dane DeHaan had never made a comedy before this film. I’m not sure he still hasn’t made a comedy after starring in Life After Beth.

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) is inconsolable with grief after his girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) dies from a snakebite while on a solo hike in the hills. Despite the best efforts of his abrasive security guard brother Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), and his helicopter parents Judy (Cheryl Hines) and Noah (Paul Reiser), nothing can shake him out of his gloom. Instead he spends his time with Beth’s parents, playing chess and smoking weed with Maury (John C Reilly), and going thru Beth’s clothes with Geenie (Molly Shannon). So far so Moonlight Mile. But when the Slocums’ Haitian maid Pearline (Eva La Dare) flees town, it’s not long before a horde of zombies appears, heralded by a returned Beth – who has no memory of dying, and is now super-strong, insanely jealous of Zach’s reappeared childhood friend Erica (Anna Kendrick), and increasingly hungry…

Warm Bodies approached the conundrum of how you make a romantic comedy with zombies by making the zombies not zombies. Life After Beth keeps the zombies as zombies and instead ditches the romantic comedy aspect. Which can’t be intentional, can it? There are so many good actors onboard that you feel something has gone disastrously wrong. Reiser is more likeable than I’ve ever seen him, and Gubler is fantastically obnoxious. But the lead performances don’t match them. Plaza presumably signed on for eating people and blowing up a lifeguard post, but, while she has fun with the physical shtick, the role mutes her comedic grouchiness. DeHaan’s everyman is ill-served by the puzzling script. What should be deadpan just turns out blank. Reacting blankly to absurd situations does not by itself provide comedy, there does need to be jokes in addition.

Writer/director Jeff Baena co-wrote I Heart Huckabees which makes it all the more baffling what the hell went wrong because he’s not a man short of comedic invention. Technically everyone is at the top of their game. Jay Hunter, who was the DP for Joss Whedon’s crisply monochrome Much Ado About Nothing, bathes this gated community in a sunlight wonderfully inapt for a zombie horror; again displaying flair on a shoestring. Kudos must also go to the casting directors (Nicole Daniels and Courtney Sheinin) who realised that with the right haircut DeHaan and Gubler are perfect as brothers. But technical competence and solid acting can only get you so far. By the end when a gratuitously naked female zombie appears you’re not sure if it’s a ham-fisted nod to Re-Animator, or a stunt to arouse the audience from its slumber.

Life After Beth is a zom-rom-com that’s played so straight that it ends up a romantic drama about a bad break-up and an unstable ex-girlfriend; now with added zombies.

1/5

September 25, 2014

Graham Greene Festival 2014

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It’s the end of September again, so it’s time to head to Berkhamsted for the annual Graham Greene Festival. Highlights include a screening of The Quiet American, Stephen Woolley and Quentin Falk discussing Greene’s cinema, and the launch of Creina Mansfield’s book The Quiet Soldier; a Wide Sargasso Sea to the Jane Eyre of Greene’s The Quiet American.

Thursday 25 September

Evening Session

The Town Hall

A visual exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted, by Jenny Sherwood and Bill Willett (displayed throughout the Festival)

5:15 Film supper in the Great Hall, preceded by drinks

5:15 Festival gathering: at pay bar in the Town Hall

This is a very happy social occasion when old friends meet, and new ones are introduced to our Festival good cheer. It is a chance to meet up with some of those at the centre of the Greene world. All are most welcome.

6:00 Supper (waitress-served, with wine): beef bourguignon with new potatoes and green beans; crème brulee; coffee and mints. Gluten-free vegan option: Mediterranean vegetable stack served with a tomato and basil sauce, followed by fruit salad.

Book by Thursday 18th September at the latest.

7:15 for 7:30 Film: Loser Takes All, 1956
Directed by Ken Annakin, and starring Glynis Johns, Rossano Brazzi and Robert Morley. Introduced by Mike Hill.

Supper and film: £28

Film only: £10
Friday 26 September

All the day’s events are in the Town Hall, Berkhamsted

Morning Session

9.45 Book launch: Creina Mansfield’s The Quiet Soldier, launched by Prof. Joyce Stavick

10:15 Graham Greene and Film Noir, by Prof. Brian McDonnell

Break for tea and coffee

11:30 Graham Greene in Mexico: A Hint of an Explanation, by Rubén Moheno

Morning session: £14

Break for lunch. Please make your own arrangements

Afternoon Session

2.15 Merriment or Make-Believe? Reflections on the Congo Journal, Missionaries, and a Home Video Showing Graham Greene in the Belgian Congo, by Prof. Michael Meeuwis

3:15 Journeys to the Border: W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Graham Greene, by Prof. Andrew Biswell

Break for tea and coffee

4:30 Divided Selves: Graham Greene and Psychoanalysis in Interwar Britain, by Dr Tracey Loughran

5:30 Creative Writing Awards. Presented by Prof. Richard Greene

Afternoon session: £14

 Evening Session at The Civic Centre

7:30 Film: The Quiet American, 2002. Directed by Phillip Noyce, and starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen. Introduced by Quentin Falk.

Evening film: £10

 

Saturday 27 September

Dean’s Hall, Berkhamsted School

An exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted will be on show

Morning Session

10:00 The Unseen Greene: Researching Graham Greene in the UK and USA – A Work in Progress by Dr Jonathan Wise

Break for tea and coffee

11:30 Book Launch: Travels in Greeneland: The Cinema of Graham Greene (revised and updated 4th edition) by Quentin Falk, in conversation with prolific British filmmaker Stephen Woolley, producer of The End of the Affair (1999).

12:30 Sandwich lunch in the Kings Arms Hotel with optional book club
Selected books Monsignor Quixote, A Burnt-Out Case, Stamboul Train. Those who wish to join the book club conversation may read one or all books. Lunch by courtesy of the Management of the Kings Arms Hotel.

Morning session: £16

Mid Afternoon Session

2:30 Spying on Writers: Graham Greene’s Interviews, by Dr Rebecca Roach

Break for tea and coffee

3:45 The Company of Others: On Graham Greene and Endo Shusaku, by Prof. Darren Middleton

Mid afternoon session: £16

Late Afternoon Session

4:45 The Birthday Toast to Graham Greene, by Prof. Judith Adamson

5:00 Reflections, by Prof. Judith Adamson

Toast and Judith Adamson Talk: £12

7.30 DinnerDinner: Old Hall, The School

Four courses with wine: seared salmon on a bed of leaves; roast rump of lamb with a redcurrant and mint coulis OR sweet potato, red pepper and asparagus risotto (vegan and gluten-free); garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables; chocolate and vanilla cheese cake and Baileys Cream; cheese board; coffee and mints.
Book by Thursday 18th September at the latest.

Dinner: £35

 

Sunday 28 September

Morning Session

VIth Form Centre, Berkhamsted School, Castle Street – upstairs from Old Hall

10:15 The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen: Graham Greene’s Literary Influence in Japan, by Dr Motonori Sato

Break for tea and coffee

11:30 ‘The worst potboiler I ever perpetrated’ (Graham Greene), The Confidential Agent: the novel and the film considered, by Mike Hill

Morning session: £16

1.00 The Farewell Lunch Old Hall

Buffet with wine. A selection of cold cuts of gammon ham, beef, poached salmon, vegetable quiche (vegan), prawns, mixed leaves, tomato, red onion and basil, coleslaw, new potatoes, crusty bread, dressings, fresh fruit salad, cream, coffee and mints.

Book by Thursday 18th September at the latest.

Farewell lunch: £24

September 24, 2014

Maps to the Stars

 

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David Cronenberg features his Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson in another tale of the rich and shameless, this time skewering Hollywood.

Wide-eyed teenager Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives off the bus in LA, and hires limo driver Jerome (Pattinson) to show her the former Weiss residence. Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a self-help guru, has been supplanted in the fame game by his monstrous son Benjie (Evan Bird), star of Bad Babysitter, who is managed by his mother Cristina (Olivia Williams), who takes her teenager’s drug use in stride. Stafford is treating faded actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), whose comeback rests not only on auditioning for director Damian (Gord Rand), agreeing to threesomes with producer Sterl (Jonathan Watton), and taking her mother Clarice’s part in a remake of mom’s cult classic, but also on ignoring ghostly Clarice (Sarah Gadon) denigrating her acting abilities. When Havana’s friend Carrie Fisher (Carrie Fisher!) recommends her Twitter pal Agatha as a PA, things get really weird…

Amazingly this is the first movie Cronenberg has ever shot in America, and he’s brought his regular crew with him south of the 49th parallel: cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, production designer Carol Spier, editor Ron Sanders, and composer Howard Shore. Everything is set for success, except the script. You feel Cronenberg might have been attracted to Maps to the Stars because it combined very dark Hollywood comedy with three sets of deranged sibling or parent relationships, and he did deranged siblings very well in Dead Ringers. But neither element really works. The disorienting boardroom grilling of Benji by nervous execs gives a hint why with its lack of establishing shots. Cronenberg, despite an eye-wateringly explicit threesome, is too icy a director to pull off lurid black comedy, and when he tackles incest here that iciness produces neither drama nor creeping horror.

Maps to the Stars features a lot of good actors, but not a lot of good parts, and feels unfocused despite such compensatory flourishes as the repeated reciting of Paul Eluard’s poem ‘Liberty’. Bird wrings some laughs from his foul-mouthed child star, while Moore tries to with a too obvious ‘shockingly callous’ reaction. Cronenberg, incidentally, is noticeably merciless in showing age has withered Moore and Cusack. Ultimately Hollywood satirises Cronenberg. Pattison’s glorified cameo has been misleadingly played up in trailers, for obvious reasons. A major character’s fiery death is head-explodingly inept, featuring CGI fire worse than The Blacklist’s shoddy standard, almost Asylum Studios bad; simply because it’ll do…  And then there’s the bit with the dog. A person is brutally bludgeoned to death, but David (Scanners’ exploding head y’all) Cronenberg is too squeamish to show the Dulux dog get whacked.

Screenwriter Bruce Wagner intended this as a satire with deep dramatic elements; but it doesn’t really work as either, and poor Cronenberg ends up becoming as ridiculous as what he’s satirising in the process.

1.5/5

September 18, 2014

Smoke gets in your eyes, Delaney gets under your skin

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INT.EDINBURGH OFFICE-DAY

DELANEY, not Mark Pellegrino’s legendary agent but a minor agent to non-entities in Scotland who by an amazing coincidence shares his name, sits at his desk lovingly dropping feed into a fishbowl while HAMISH McBITPARTH, paces around the office restlessly, waves his arms passionately, and complains volubly…

 

McBITPARTH: I naarrryy part *&**&**& %%%£$ (&*(& aye.

DELANEY: What’s that now?

McBITPARTH: And whutevya &*&( hag? ^*&%()*%^&)% noo?

DELANEY: Hey?

McBITPARTH: Pay you shills &*&( R$$$^ &(*&(* hoor

DELANEY: Come again?

McBITPARTH: Are ye deaf orr *&^*^ %(^(*&*& ^^%%$%$9 mon?

 

Delaney leans back in his chair, baffled and exasperated, looks idly at the fishbowl, looks intently at the fishbowl, and smacks himself in the forehead.

 

McBITPARTH: Now whut &*&* ^*&^(* at all?

DELANEY: Wait! I forgot to put my Babelfish in.

 

Delaney gently scoops the fish out of the bowl and sticks it in his ear. He sits down.

 

DELANEY: Good God, I really had forgotten just how unintelligible you were without it. If I hadn’t taken it as a memento from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy set nine years ago I don’t know how I would ever have managed up here. Honestly, if you people vote next year to the leave the Union… Without any restraining English influence on you the entire country will be incomprehensible within five years.

McBITPARTH: Aw shove it, Delaney. Go back to London then.

DELANEY: London remains a bit dicey. Sam Rockwell still has eyes and ears there…

McBITPARTH: Were you listening to me?

DELANEY: Yes! That is to say, no. That is to say, I was listening but not hearing, or hearing but not listening; whichever of those Sherlock Holmes said and would therefore make me sound witty is what I was doing. But in any case if you were griping, which is what it sounded like, then not to worry. I’ve got you a part.

McBITPARTH: Is it a good part?

DELANEY: It’s a juicy part.

McBITPARTH: That’s what you said about Taggart!

DELANEY: I was being descriptive about the corpse you’d be playing. This time I’m being… expansive, metaphorical.

McBITPARTH: You know that Taggart has ended, nigh on three years ago?

DELANEY: You’re obsessed with Taggart!

McBITPARTH: You’re obsessed with Taggart! After the corpse you got me another part in it, a bigger part you said.

DELANEY: It was a bigger part!

McBITPARTH: I died in flashback and then appeared as a corpse!

DELANEY: That was double the screen-time!

McBITPARTH: And then there was that Macbeth fiasco…

DELANEY: YOU WOULD HAVE TO BRING THAT UP WOULDN’T YOU?!!

McBITPARTH: SOMETIMES I THINK THAT WHEN YOU FLED HERE FROM THE SOUTH ALL YOU KNEW OF SCOTLAND WAS TAGGART AND MACBETH – AND MACBETH WAS WRITTEN BY A SASSENACH!

DELANEY: You wanted to do some good work, I got you a part in a Shakespeare play. And to be hauled over the coals about it year after bloody year. Shakespeare! The Bard of Avon! The poet of the nation.

McBITPARTH: Your nation.

DELANEY: Ohhh!!! (pained pause) Just because you didn’t have any lines.

McBITPARTH: I was playing the FOURTH murderer in a play famous for having a redundant THIRD murderer! I’ve never been so embarrassed…

DELANEY: Still better than just being a corpse.

McBITPARTH: (sighs) So what’s this part you’ve got me?

DELANEY: It’s in some weird film. I couldn’t understand anything they said about it, and they were all English so it’s not a problem with dialect.

McBITPARTH: What’s the part?

DELANEY: You have a sex scene with Scarlett Johansson.

McBITPARTH: **** off.

DELANEY: (massaging his ear) My Babelfish appears to have come loose.

McBITPARTH: No, I was swearing.

DELANEY: How dashed odd! Why did it censor you?

McBITPARTH: You lifted it from the set of a PG-13 movie you dobber.

DELANEY: Ah! But seriously, you have a sex scene with Scarlett Johansson.

McBITPARTH: No.

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: No.

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: Yes?

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: No!

DELANEY: Yes!

McBITPARTH: Yes??

DELANEY: YES!

McBITPARTH: YES!! YES!! Will she be naked?

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: YES!! This is why I became an actor!!

 

McBitparth jumps up, does an impromptu dance of joy. Delaney mistakes it for a Highland fling and grimaces at it, an expression of exquisitely Tory contempt.

 

McBITPARTH: Is this a wind-up?

DELANEY: No, it’s totally legitimate.

McBITPARTH: Scar-Jo will be naked in a scene with me?

DELANEY: Yes, but you’ll be wearing a sock.

McBITPARTH: I’ll bloody need to be wearing a sock…

DELANEY: Don’t…

McBITPARTH: Why me? Why did they want me?

DELANEY: Well, a friend of mine in London put them in touch with me.

McBITPARTH: Looking for Scottish actors then?

DELANEY: I think he said they were looking for non-professional actors.

 

They both look at the floor.

 

McBITPARTH: Naked Scar-Jo! YES!!!

DELANEY: That’s all I bloody hear these days…

Noble

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Stand-up Deirdre O’Kane tackles a weighty dramatic role as humanitarian Christina Noble in this biopic set in Ireland and Vietnam.

Noble (O’Kane) arrives in Vietnam in 1989, on a mission from God – more or less. She had a dream about Vietnam and travelled there, quickly discovering that her calling is to make a difference in the lives of the buidoi, the despised street children. Flashbacks (with Gloria Cramer Curtis and Sarah Greene as the younger Noble) draw the parallel between her tenement childhood and institutionalised teenage years, and the plight of the Vietnamese children she takes under her wing. In Vietnam she attempts to cajole Irish and English businessmen Gerry Shaw (Brendan Coyle) and David Somers (Mark Huberman) into financing building works at the neglected orphanage run by Madame Linh (Nhu Quynh Nguyen). But as her experience with abusive husband Mario Pistola (David Mumeni) has taught her, charm can hide callous cruelty – and figures of authority everywhere disdain their buidoi.

Cinematographer Trevor Forrest’s location work in Saigon is fantastic, with familiar imagery of vegetation floating downriver right next to the modernising city of the Western businessman. Noble is also lit up by many great performances. Ruth Negga is winning as Joan, the best friend of Greene’s teenage Christine. Greene, a Talking Movies favourite for her great theatre work, has a meaty cinematic part here and renders Christina a punchy survivor. Sadly the great Karl Shiels is wasted in as cipherish a cameo as his Peaky Blinders role. This is doubly disappointing because Coyle and Huberman offer wonderfully nuanced turns, and Liam Cunningham as Christina’s drunken father is gloriously ambiguous. However, Cunningham’s self-mythologising father who veers between love and rage is a figure out of O’Casey; which draws attention to Christina Casali’s 1950s Dublin design seeming more suited to 1920s Dublin.

That design even drags us into Angela’s Ashes territory, because everything that can go wrong for Christina does go wrong. Even though it’s based on a true story you feel like writer/director Stephen Bradley’s script is hewing to established clichés of the misery memoir. And there are other problems: Christina’s constant recourse to charming singing feels forced, the practicalities of her living rough in the Phoenix Park and later gaining access to Vietnam are left unaddressed, and even her impassioned rant to God in a church recalls The West Wing. Quite worryingly, following Philomena’s unlovely lead, Bradley seems to deploy pre-Vatican II religious garb as a simplistic visual signifier of presumptive evil. Eva Birthistle’s nun is to be treated as a boo-hiss pantomime villain from her first appearance in a wimple; a veritable judas-goat for judicial, political and familial villains.

Noble has a number of committed performances, but the script doesn’t do them justice; it is too on the nose when it could have used more subtlety and humour in depicting Noble’s extraordinary efforts.

2.75/5

September 17, 2014

Wish I Was Here

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Zach Braff finally follows up Garden State, but his second film as director suggests he needed Kickstarter money for reasons other than control of casting…

Braff plays Aidan Bloom, an actor who hasn’t worked for quite some time. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports his dream financially with her boring job, and his disappointed father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) pays the tuition to send Aidan’s children Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King) to a private school. The catch is it’s a Hebrew private school, leading to a religious divide between the three generations with Aidan and Sarah out in the non-kosher cold. When Gabe’s cancer returns Aidan is forced to attempt to simultaneously home-school his children to save money, reconcile his equally underachieving brother Noah (Josh Gad) with Gabe while there’s time, defend his wife against her sleazy co-worker Jerry (Michael Weston), defeat rival actor Paul (Jim Parsons) for a lucrative role, and deal with the infuriating Rabbis Twersky (Allan Rich) and Rosenberg (Alexander Chaplin)…

It’s been nine and a half years since Garden State was released here, but all those skills are still there. The indie musical cues, the deadpan comedy, the unexpected drama – all stand present and correct, but the novelty and charm are gone. Braff’s script with his brother Adam is terribly muddled. Wish I Was Here, despite an unlikely Othello gag, isn’t very funny, and some sequences (Braff pretending to be an old Hispanic…) are just uncomfortable, because, shockingly, Braff’s not very likeable. There’s a crudity to these Brothers Bloom, and even Noah’s crush Janine (an unrecognisable Ashley Greene), that is quite off-putting; and which makes the sub-plot with Jerry problematic, despite a delightfully unexpected touch, because it needs more context for us to understand why only his ribaldry is unacceptable. In fact everything feels like it needs more context, but the film already feels far longer than its 106 minutes; it is that unenviable paradox – both too short and too long. And it also rehashes scenes we’ve seen done better in Studio 60 (the unexpected positive result of a disinterested mitzvah) and Modern Family (the underprepared casual adult teacher being supplanted at the blackboard by his smarter driven student relative).

Wish I Was Here attempts to deal with heavy themes, but Gabe’s terminal illness is terribly manipulative, to the point that you’d reject Aidan and Noah reconciling with him as a mere plot contrivance, because it doesn’t feel earned. Braff is no Michael Chabon when it comes to scrutinising American Jewish identity. The glibly sarcastic agnosticism of Braff and Hudson’s characters is largely the reason they’re acted off the screen by Patinkin and King. Braff seems unaware that proudly reminiscing to the sincere and kindly Rabbi Rosenberg about how he had a double bacon cheeseburger right after his Bar Miztvah is more likely to make us sympathise with Gabe’s disappointment than cheer on Aidan. Aidan and Sarah admit they have no identity, no advice, no metaphysical certainty; all Tucker has learnt is Aidan’s flip attitude. Gabe has bequeathed Grace the Jewish faith, language, and cultural identity. Aidan belatedly ripostes by reciting ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost and ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ by TS Eliot… Joyce wanted applause for his Jewish hero in Ulysses, but his Bloom ate a pork kidney because Joyce, like Braff, lacked the imaginative empathy to create a hero who took his faith seriously.

Garden State was an unexpected gem, but Wish I Was Here suggests that Braff has actually emotionally regressed as a writer since even as his ambition has soared ahead.

2/5

September 12, 2014

Fingal Film Festival 2014

Fingal Film Festival gets underway on the 26th of September with a programme featuring some of the best independent films of 2014 from Ireland and abroad.

Friday afternoon sees a screening of Irish feature documentary One Ocean: No Limits, which follows a young novice Irish rower through the highs and lows of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Barbados as part of a crew of six. That evening, the festival will officially open with the Irish premiere of Gia Coppola’s astonishing debut feature Palo Alto, an unflinching portrait of adolescent lust, boredom and self-destruction, starring Emma Roberts and James Franco.

Saturday the 27th’s programme features award-winning Colombian film Jardín de Amapolas, which tells the story of a farmer and his son forced into the dangerous but lucrative world of cultivating poppies following their exile by rebels. Irish docudrama A Terrible Beauty / Áille an Uafáis tells the story of the men and women of the Easter Rising – the ordinary Irish volunteers, British soldiers and innocent civilians caught up in a conflict many did not understand. The Saturday evening feature is coming of age tale Calloused Hands, the tale of talented young baseball player Josh trying to ignore the violence at home and do whatever it takes to rise up out of Miami’s roughest neighbourhood.

Sunday afternoon showcases Iranian drama The Corridor, followed that evening by documentary Dah Zivota, which focuses on twelve babies born to the civil war in Bosnia Herzegovina who were deprived of oxygen due to air and ground blockades. The festival then closes with Blitzfood, a comedy about hate, in which volatile lost soul Perigrin Ship staggers through a nervous maze of self-inflicted disasters.  Could this suffering be transformative??

These features will be accompanied by a programme of short films including animation and Irish language submissions. In addition to screenings, the festival is offering a number of workshops. Award-winning animation company Boulder Media (Randy Cunningham 9th Grade Ninja) will host the Animation Workshop, led by Emmy-nominated Robert Cullen (Friday 26th September). A workshop on Sound Design and Supervision will be lead by Niall Brady of Screen Scene Post Production House, whose recent film credits include Frank, and Steve Fanagan of Ardmore Studios, whose credits include The Guard and Game of Thrones (Saturday 27th September).

Tickets can be purchased here, http://entertainment.ie/festival/Dublin/Fingal-Film-Festival-2014/4928.htm, and the festival website is www.fingalfilmfest.com.

September 11, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

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Philip Seymour Hoffman’s swansong as a leading man sees him play a German spymaster in Anton Corbijn’s low-key intelligence thriller.

Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman) is the harassed spymaster of a clandestine unit of German intelligence. Officially Gunther, his loyal lieutenant Irna (Nina Hoss), and Niki (Vicky Krieps) and Maximilian (Daniel Bruhl in a mystifyingly small part); the youngsters who do the physical side of operations; don’t exist, but they keep post 9/11 Hamburg safe from terrorist cells exploiting its port city porosity. Getting in their way is human rights lawyer Annabel (Rachel McAdams), who is attempting to get Chechen illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) the fortune his despised war-lord father left in the hands of discreet banker Brue (Willem Dafoe). Gunther wants to turn Annabel, and so use both his existing mole Jamal (Mehdi Dehbi) and suspected terrorist Issa to snare the respected Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi); who Gunther suspects of covertly using Islamic charities to fund terrorism. Enter the CIA…

Rock photographer Corbijn’s first two films as director, Control and The American, were visually striking, and A Most Wanted Man has equally interesting work right from the opening when the lapping harbour water Issa emerges from becomes shifting whiskey in Gunther’s glass. Corbijn makes great use of shifting focus in a lengthy interrogation, stages a long-take on a ferry very disconcertingly, and hammers home the paranoia of surveillance with Niki and Maximilian’s constant unobtrusive tailing of suspects. The nitty-gritty procedural approach to intelligence work is always absorbing, and Robin Wright’s cameos as inveigling Company woman Martha Sullivan are nicely done. But the extended breaking of Annabel, even though it’s probably quite realistic, sucks all momentum out of proceedings. And then just when things have got properly tense again with Gunther laying a trap, the trademark le Carre letdown is sprung.

An emotionally devastating twist is casually thrown in, but screenwriter Andrew (Lantana) Bovell cannot salvage the unsatisfactory finale which, in typical le Carre style, ends not with a bang but a whimper. le Carre may have had the inside scoop on the Cold War when he started writing, but it’s been fifty years since Kim Philby blew his cover, and it’s hard to think of a profession less likely to spill new trade secrets to former members of the guild, so this can’t be le Carre giving us the real scoop on how post-9/11 intelligence works so much as le Carre giving us his own bleak weltanschauung. It is one he shares with Cormac McCarthy: storytellers who create protagonists and antagonists, place them in peril, but then, because they have no real interest in storytelling, lose interest in their creations.

A Most Wanted Man is a pretty good leading man send-off for Hoffman; particularly the poignant last image in which Hoffman walks out of shot and our lives; but its ending lets it down.

3/5

September 7, 2014

Sky Road TV & Film Festival

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The inaugural Sky Road TV & Film Festival drew to a close today, following a weekend of screenings of Irish TV and film-making talent across features, shorts, documentaries and new media in both English and Irish languages, at The Station House Theatre in Clifden Co. Galway. Highlights on Sunday included a screening of The Field, with special guest Jim Sheridan, 25 years after it was first filmed in the locality and the world premiere of Tommy: To Tell You The Truth with comedian Tommy Tiernan in attendance.

The festival brought unexpected stories to audiences throughout the three days, both entertaining and thought-provoking from a broad range of emerging and established filmmakers, all of whom were in the running for the Festival awards which were announced following the closing film.

“It’s been an exhilarating and exciting first festival” said Eamonn O Cualain, Festival Chairman. “The quality and quantity of submissions for our first programme enabled us to deliver what we hope has been a unique festival experience. The support and positive feedback has been overwhelming from both the film industry and our audiences. The local goodwill and enthusiasm has been particularly reassuring and encouraging.”

There were nine awards in association with industry organisations TG4, RTE, BAI and the Irish Film Board. The judging panel included a range of figures from the Irish film Industry including Jim Sheridan, Bob Quinn, Ross Whitaker, Martha O’Neill, Paddy Hayes, Jill Beardsworth, Barbara McCann, Loretta Ni Ghabhain and film journalists Daniel Anderson, Tara Brady, Gavin Burke, Donald Clarke, Brogen Hayes and Nicola Timmins.

The winners were:

Best Short Film in association with The Irish Film Board 

Winner: The Abandoning

A film about the memory of a house where the past and present are not separate places

Director: Vanessa Gildea. Producer: Se Merry Doyle

 

Best Short Film, First Time Director in association with The Irish Film Board 

Winner: The Swing

A coming of age story about two young brothers who find themselves in a perilous situation that kicks up memories of their past

Director: Damien Dunne. Producer: Nora Windeck

 

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Best Feature Film

Winner: A Nightingale Falling

Set in Ireland during The war of Independence, two sisters’ lives are changed forever as they care for a wounded soldier in their home.

Director: Garret Daly/Martina McGlynn. Producer: Martina McGlynn, Gerry Burke, Garret Daly, PJ Curtis

 

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Best Feature Documentary in association with TG4

Winner: John Sheahan – A Dubliner

A revealing and beautifully made portrait of a man who was an integral part of the national institution that is The Dubliners.

Director: Maurice Sweeney. Producer: Liam McGrath/Ceoladh Sheahan

 

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Best Short Documentary in association with RTE

Winner: Seamus Heaney – Iarscribhinn – Imeall

This special edition of Imeall celebrates the life and poetry of Seamus Heaney as we visit the farmlands of Bellaghy, Co. Derry that inspired so many of his poems.

Director: Paschal Cassidy. Producer: Maggie Breathnach

 

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Best Documentary Series in association with BAI

Winner: Ceolchuairt Iamaice

Belfast troubadour Gearoid Mac Lochlainn embarks on a reggae pilgrimage to Jamaica to see if the message of one love that crossed sectarian boundaries in his teenage years in Belfast is still alive in 
Jamaica.

Director: Paddy Hayes. Producer: Laura Ni­ Cheallaigh

 

Best 3 minute short, New Media, filmed on a mobile or smart device

Winner: Turnaround for Little Terns

A news report for RTE which was filmed on an iphone 5S. Wicklow farmer Michael Keegan is hoping to restore the tractor which helped his grandfather win the 1964 World Ploughing Championship.

Director: Philip Bromwell

 

Best 1 minute short, New Media, filmed on a mobile or smart device

Winner: iday

One minute video concentrating on energy and power

Director/producer: Ivor Carroll

 

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The Spirit of the Festival Award was presented in recognition of a film, television programme or event that encapsulates the spirit of the Sky Road TV & Film Festival each year.

Winner: It Came From Connemara!!

This feature documentary tells the unique story behind Roger Corman’s film factory in Connemara.

Director/Producer: Brian Reddin

 

TG4 Pitch an idea to make a 25 minute documentary worth €25,000

In a unique and exciting opportunity TG4 offered aspiring filmmakers a chance to pitch their ideas to make a 25 minute documentary worth €25,000. Fifteen original pitches were shortlisted from a total of sixty one entries to pitch to commissioning editors on stage at the Festival in either the Irish or English language. Participants travelled from Dublin, Meath, Clare, Cork, Galway and Connemara.

The winner was Barry Ryan, a native of Clifden with ‘Beyond Reach Of Our Pity’. His idea for a short documentary, about a young boy who died in Letterfrack’s industrial school, was inspired by a line of poetry from Paula Meehan.  He will receive an initial €1,000 to develop a detailed written treatment from the synopsis, under the guidance of an experienced TV director. If TG4 considers this treatment of an acceptable standard for production the budget awarded will be €24,000.

 

“The standard was excellent, very clear pitches were delivered with great passion and belief. The range of ideas was truly amazing from highly personal stories to historical concepts to contemporary social commentary, across a broad geographical spread. While we chose ‘Beyond Reach Of Our Pity’ as the pitch winner we will also request a number of participants to submit their ideas for the next TG4 commissioning round on October 6th. All in all a very stimulating and exciting session.”  Proinsias Ni Ghrainne, Commissioning Editor, TG4

September 5, 2014

The Actor’s Lament

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Actor Steven Berkoff returns to writing verse drama for the first time in decades with this entertaining if slight production.

Berkoff is an actor recovering from hostile reviews of his first outing as a playwright. Licking his wounds, he is comforted by the kind words of his playwright friend played by Jay Benedict, who insists he is a fantastic actor and the critics could not forgive his presumption. And the mutual flattery escalates even further when their actress friend played by Andree Bernard arrives, to be told what a great artiste she is; even if she is understudying a soap star on the West End. And then things kick off into not so much a lament as a tirade, at the state of the West End, the cult of theatre directors, the arrogance of playwrights, and, above all, the agony of the actor’s life and the importance of what they do night after night; for themselves and for the audience.

That might sound a bit off-putting, but this splenetic hour is filled with humour and self-awareness. Berkoff knows that an actor turned playwright moaning about revivals in the West End, and how directors like them because they get a cut of the proceeds, will seem dangerously like personal carping by Berkoff himself. And so he turns it up to 11: we get Berkoff moving himself to tears over the West End being a morgue; “Poor Chekhov dragged out again, leave the poor bloody sod alone”; full of clueless screen actors; “If you don’t remember your lines you do it fifty more bloody times. But in theatre there is only one take, and it goes on all night, every night, until you get it right!”; while dedicated actors like Berkoff and Bernard are left on the scrapheap, abandoned even by Benedict.

Berkoff’s use of verse is not like Joss Whedon’s use of rhyme in his musicals. You’re rarely waiting for a pay-off from a Berkoff line, instead it sounds like normal speech with the occasional unexpected rhyme. And, performed on a bare stage, with only an ornate chair for decoration, the focus is on the physical theatre Berkoff perfected after studying at the Lecoq school in Paris; so well displayed in Ballyturk some weeks back by a younger veteran of that school, Mikel Murfi. Imaginary cigarettes are lit with hands where the thumb waggles for the flame of a lighter. Othello, Macbeth, and Lear come to life for a few lines by dint of a change in posture and tone of voice. Berkoff ages himself by stooping and playing deaf. Indeed by the end Berkoff, age 77, was drenched in sweat…

The Actor’s Lament is a late and almost disappointingly short work from a master, but, while his age precludes the full powerhouse style of his youth, his physical theatre is still to be revered.

3/5

The Actor’s Lament continues its run at the Gaiety Theatre until September 6th.

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