Talking Movies

January 31, 2023

The Weir

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 7:23 pm

The Abbey revives Conor McPherson’s all-conquering 1997 play of ghost stories in an isolated Leitrim pub to a somewhat curious effect.

Jack (Brendan Coyle) arrives into a small pub to find the tap for his chosen tipple isn’t working. So it goes with laidback barman Brendan (Sean Fox), who gives Jack a bottle instead. They are soon joined by the quiet but sharp Jim (Marty Rea), and anxiously await the arrival of local tycoon Finbarr (Peter Coonan), who is bringing ‘Dublin’ blow-in Valerie (Jolly Abraham) to the bar. The men are concerned that Finbarr, a married man, is being unseemly in his attentions towards Valerie, and are equally concerned that he is turning them into dancing bears as a show of local colour for Valerie. But in the end the unseemliness comes from the concerned locals, as a number of local ghost stories pour forth, becoming progressively darker as the night draws in and the beers and short ones mount up.

Director Caitriona McLaughlin’s handling of The Weir is curious, not least her decision to drastically cut down the playing space of the Abbey by placing a car outside the pub, and shoving all action to one half of the stage. She also lightly amends the play to make Valerie, not a woman from Dublin, but a woman from Ohio relocated to Dublin relocating to Leitrim, which seems to be putting a bit more weight on the play that its structure can support. Not least as it sets up a problem with tone. This is the second time I’ve seen the play since Patrick Doyle parsed the script for me as a Mametian series of power-plays. Seen in that light the stories have suspicious similarities of theme, to say nothing of the escalation; Jack narrates a historic haunting, Finbarr narrates feeling a ghost behind him, Jim interacts directly with a paedophile’s ghost, and Valerie’s daughter returns via a ghostly phone call. The fact that Valerie unleashes her trumping story after a trip to the toilet supports the idea that she’s had enough of these strangers trying to unnerve her and has decided to beat them at their game. A certain histrionic quality to her telling of the tale only plays into that, alongside the fact that Abraham and Coonan seem to be giving performances in a different register to the other members of the cast. There is a certain cartoonish larger-than-life quality to Coonan and Abraham, which does not sit at all well with what Rea, in particular, is doing. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the individual turns, but as an ensemble it doesn’t make any sense – it’s like keeping Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future alongside Christopher Lloyd.


December 24, 2022

O Holy Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 3:19 pm

This is the way the year ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

The blog has been even more sporadic this year than in 2021. I don’t know if things will improve on the writing front next year, but I do hope that 2023 will be the most normal year of this benighted decade.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Talking Movies will return in 2023.

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part LXV

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 3:13 pm

As the title suggests, so forth.

The Way of All Flesh

It’s been thirteen years since Avatar was released, and here comes the sequel. That is a preposterous delay, but one of the most interesting things for me is that it pinpoints a seachange that I missed because of my general checking out of the MCU. At one point in the 2010s it seemed like 3-D was the defaut mode for blockbusters. Not real properly planned and photographed 3-D of course, just post-production conversion. There was a time when I had to carefully scan the cinema listings so I could boycott 3-D, and its outrageous surcharge, and just see films in glorious 2-D. And, because I stopped going to see the increasingly bland Marvel movies and their ilk, I didn’t notice when it happened but clearly that situation flipped, and suddenly most screenings were 2-D again, and it was 3-D screenings you had to seek out. I would like to think that some of this was simply people voting with their feet, but equally with Disney’s monopoly/monopsony power it could simply be that they dropped 3-D conversion because with their increasing affinity for last-minute CGI VFX there simply was no finished product to convert. And so everybody had to adjust to that, studios and audiences alike. In the same way that the 2010s have seen audiences inured to sloppy fight editing, vague and incomprehensible action sequences, with frankly embarrassing CGI blighting all. But for a whole generation that’s normal; cinema is CGI capes that look crap.

Unseen & Unheard

Talking of things that are frankly embarrassing, ahem, my first reaction to seeing Vertigo toppled in the Sight & Sound poll because of incredibly obvious vote-rigging was to laugh out loud. I don’t have much time for the Sight & Sound poll, so I’m not hugely invested in defending its integrity. I genuinely feel it’s sheer good luck that Vertigo ever got the accolade. Back in 2012 I was just nonplussed by the results. I felt that people weren’t genuinely voting on what they thought were the greatest films of all time after much thought and prayer. They weren’t even voting for their own personal favourite films in a spirit of adorable idiosyncracy. They were not voting for anything they actually liked or thought good, but voting with an eye to impressing other people, to try and outdo other critics with their obscure choices in a spirit of too cool for film school. At the time I said the amount of silent films that had popped up was akin to someone saying I love the theatre but it’s all been downhill since they stopped wearing the masks. A statement that would not make it immediately obvious that this person actually does love the theatre. And this time round the process has been even more transparently absurd. But who cares? Whatever the intention was, it has surely backfired.

Any Other Business: Part LXXIV

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 2:27 pm

As the title suggests, so forth.

The Good, The Bad, of the Conspiratorial

As 2022 comes to an end and the current surge of Covid 19 is more or less ignored as yesterday’s news it’s worth reflecting on what Covid 19 and the vaccines that tamed it revealed about a subset of the population. I’m not sure it will be possible in 2023 to go back to normal as our first full year without handwringing about Covid since 2019. Because the people who refused the free, safe, and effective vaccine benefited from the pandemic being quieted by it, yet loudly insisted on prioritising their own overweening self-regard over the common good. David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories I would regard as something of a touchstone for understanding the attraction of conspiracism. And yet his major thesis – that conspiracies are espoused by people who are powerless, and once they regain power they quietly memory hole the embarassing absurdities they once insisted were true of their hated political opponents – I feel needs two corollaries after Covid 19. I’ve come to the definite conclusion that conspiracy theories in the age of social media are how stupid people make themselves feel smart. Sure, they may not have been smart enough to study medicine, or have the wherewithal to work in a lab, but because they did their own ‘research’ (i.e. watching YouTube videos on their smartphone) they have access to the real truth, the secret history behind the cover story, that all the smart people are too dumb to really understand or are complicit in creating. Like Flat Earthers. The only problem being that Flat Earthers aren’t in a position to hurt other people by their insanity. I’ve also begun to feel there are two types of conspiratorial thinking – good, and bad; as it were. Good conspiriatorial thinking, if there can be such a thing, is the final fallback of the mind when logic fails. Why is Elon Musk destroying Twitter? There really is no logical reasoning that explains the petulant oligarch’s temper tantrums. So people start mooching around conspiracies – perhaps he shorted the stock, maybe he’s the puppet of forces who want to destroy Twitter’s value for journalists – casting about for a hidden scenario that would make sense of the inexplicable observable reality. Bad conspiratorial thinking, doubtless a redundant term, instead sees the observable reality of the world, which is thoroughly explicable by logic, and insists there must be a hidden reality that explains what is there. In a way this eagerness to reject reality in service of some delusional agenda is a fast-track to gaslighting, which someone described to me recently as the defining word of our generation.

The Queen is Dead

And that should have been that. No more so than gun massacres never being the time to discuss gun control in America, the English media’s insistence that the death of the Queen was no time to discuss the continued existence of the monarchy is convenient for people who want nothing to change. But who did elect Charles III? And why is asking that question in public a criminal offence? I am damned if I can find any reason for the continued existence of monarchies, whose embarassing presence continues to blight Europe. The three most common arguments people have made to me are – the monarchy isn’t doing any harm – It’s good for tourism – It’s traditional. France gets an incredible amount of visitors every year; they stop at the Louvre and at Versailles; and the absence of an actual monarchy doesn’t impinge on people’s enjoyment of witnessing the works of the ancien regime. It is of no consequence to me visiting Apsley House or Walmer Castle whether or not there is a Duke of Wellington knocking about right now, it is of crucial importance that there was a Duke of Wellington riding a horse at Waterloo. As for the idea that England must keep the monarchy because it is traditional; a Tory PM in the last decaded introduced gay marriage and three parent DNA babies to England. And a monarchy does enormous harm – how can you believe in meritocracy when sitting atop a country is someone lording it over everyone because they were born to lord it over everyone. At the centenary commemoration of the Somme I was struck by the contrast between Prince Charles and Charles Dance. If you were to come upon the scene and ask which was the King-in-waiting you would’ve been astounded to be told it was Charles Windsor, not Charles Dance, and therein lies the problem. There is no merit involved in monarchy, no ability, no qualifications – nothing. It is a pure shot in the dark. It’s only by the order of birth that Prince Andrew is not King Andrew right now. And there can be no more irrefutable argument against monarchy than that. There is nothing to stop William Windsor running for a ten year term as President of Britain, he would probably win, and he might win a second ten year term, and then, having equalled the reign of George V, step down. The crucial thing would be that he was elected to the position, and he could be dismissed from the position, by the people.

November 22, 2022

Lykke Li @ Vega

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 9:23 pm

I’m always loath to post reviews of shows outside of Dublin, but I felt an exception had to be made for Lykke Li at Vega; the Vicar Street of Copenhagen.

This was my first gig since St Vincent at the Iveagh Gardens in 2015. And as I’ve been a fan of the Swedish songstress for even longer than of St Vincent, I was quite overwhelmed when Lykke Li took to the stage and started singing songs of heartbreak and unrequited love. She performed the entirety of her new album Eyeye in sequence, and it was phenomenal. This very physical lithe stage presence but with a cold mannered stare: Part Prince, part Bowie, part St Vincent – all commanding.

And her drummer pounded the rhythms into you – ‘Over’ became thunderous as well as emotional. Something akin to Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ meeting St Vincent’s piano ballad version of ‘Los Ageless’. When Li moved into her back catalogue in the second half of the concert she showed she knew her audience, asking who was heartbroken, and who was the most heartbroken – before turning Never Gonna Love Again into the world’s most unlikeliest singalong, with the Copenhagen crowd giving she said the best rendition of the chorus on the Eyeye tour yet.


October 4, 2022

Turn On, Tune In/Drop Out

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 9:27 pm

Hallowe’en is coming. And for the first time since 2019 it is a Hallowe’en capable of having hijinks be plotted for it. Great! And yet…

The Lighthouse is showing The Shining and The Thing on the big screen over the Hallowe’en Bank Holiday Weekend. I am interested to see both on the big screen. Interested, but not enthused. I still find the return to normality while COVID still swirls about … unnerving. Especially as my private fear with which I have freaked out numerous people remains a twindemic of a nasty flu season coupled with a resurgence of COVID in a new variation that combines the original’s lethality with Omicron’s transmissibility, forcing everyone to stay indoors just as a second Beast from the East descends upon us that stays for weeks not days this time round, and rolling blackouts plunge us into teeth-chattering frozen hell. But I digress.

As much as I find the universal pretence that COVID is done weird, I am also wary of cinema audiences for another reason. 2018’s 40th anniversary screening of Halloween at the Lighthouse. Sure, I can think of films that were pretty miserable viewing experiences for me; Crawl, The Monk; but usually that was one or two people going out of their way to be obnoxious. 2018 was the first time I was party to an entire cinema going out of its way to be obnoxious. And feeling very old, and also very disconnected from the baffling attitude on display. Which leads me to think that by studying English at college, I was part of a bubble. One that may not exist any longer, even within that rarefied field.

September 29, 2022


Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 4:26 pm

It’s impossible for me to review Translations without first confessing that I know the script inside out, having both studied it at college and then taught it…

1833 in Friel’s eternal Donegal setting of Baile Beag finds a hedge school run by drunken master Hugh (Denis Conway) and his lame son Manus (Aaron Monaghan), specialising in Latin and Greek, being menaced by the arrival of a new English speaking National School, specialising in English. This off-stage menace is accompanied by the on-stage arrival of English sappers conducting an ordnance survey of the area for military purposes. But, as their work proceeds with the aid of Hugh’s other son Owen (Barry Ward) returned from Dublin, one of the British soldiers Yolland (Tim Delap) begins to question the morality of his task, even as he falls in love with local girl Maire (Aoife McMahon). The conflict between high civilisation and base commerce, Irish and English, and the noble rhetoric of progress and its low activities of expropriation, are all layered around these emotional conflicts. Maire’s love triangle with Manus and Yolland is very obviously a choice between a maimed native culture and a confident foreign culture…

Naomi Wilkinson’s set design heavily emphasises the squalor of this hedge-school, while Joan O’Clery’s costumes fit in with this approach by clothing the students in tattered earth tones, with the rebellious Maire in bright yellow and Hugh sporting a burnt orange jacket, while Hugh’s successful son Owen returns dressed in a spiffy blue overcoat, closer to the English military’s colour-scheme. Director Conall Morrison, who I’m still wary of on account of his late 1990s adaptation of Tarry Flynn, predictably brings sauciness to Friel’s comedy in the opening act. In the second act, however, he changes gears as the blue sky above the barn-set darkens, so that the rain sound effect heightens a chillingly conveyed sense of doom that anticipates the impending Famine. Rory Nolan as Doalty and Janet Moran as Bridget carry the bulk of Morrison’s slapstick; Nolan does a glorious mime of the English sappers’ baffled reaction to their ‘malfunctioning’ equipment, a result of his mischief; but they also imbue the off-stage Donnelly twins, often interpreted as proto-IRA figures in their campaign against the British presence, with the appropriate menace by their subdued reaction to their names being mentioned.

The inevitable Aaron Monaghan is very sympathetic as the brother whose half-hearted resistance to the British breaks down under personal contact, even as Ward convincingly travels the opposite arc as Owen grasps the political implications of his linguistic ‘collaboration’ with Yolland. McMahon is surprisingly flirtatious as Maire rather than simply determined, and there is a level of anger by Hugh towards her dismissal of his classics that seems alien to the script, as is his appearance as utterly decrepit. It seems absurd to accuse someone with an Irish Times Best Actor Theatre Award of lacking the necessary stature for a role, but Denis Conway is no Ray MacAnally, and he fails to dominate the stage as Hugh should. As a result Hugh’s final speeches to a drenched Maire, which should be tragic, raised some laughs. Conway effectively mixes bombast with moments of self-awareness, but if Hugh’s paraphrasing of George Steiner’s linguistic theories do not grip as the central statement of the self-defeating cultural delusions that colonisation can foist on a materially defeated civilisation then the focus of the play becomes diffuse.

This is well worth seeing, but there are quibbles…


Translations continues its run at the Abbey until the 13th of August.

August 29, 2022

Any Other Business: Part LXXIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

What a difference a theme tune makes

In a mind-bending piece of coincidence I now have to remind myself that I cannot change reality merely by complaining about it. Obviously. But after ITV 4 started showing Magnum PI from the beginning, only to ditch the theme tune after the two-part pilot, I got annoyed. It was replaced by some smooth jazz muzak that might have served, had I not known what should have been there. Indeed as the action set pieces sometimes included that rousing theme that we were apparently not allowed for legal reasons to hear over the opening credits it was a strange case of the theme tune comes and goes at random. And then suddenly it was back, and has been ever since, as ITV 4 chugged on into season 2. And it really sets the show up as the fun blast that it is in a way that the smooth jazz muzak surely did not. Watching Magnum PI for the first time, after it somehow didn’t seem to get aired here first time round despite everything from Jake and the Fatman to Riptide making it across the Atlantic, has certainly changed my perspective on a couple of 1980s comedies. The moment when Eddie Murphy breaks the fourth wall in Trading Places on having the meaning of a BLT explained to him suddenly seems to come less out of the blue when Magnum has been breaking the fourth wall for three seasons to shoot a glance at the audience. And the magnum opus of fourth wall breaches, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, seems like an inevitable combination of Magnum’s sardonic PI narration mixed with fourth wall glances. Did American audiences of the time understand these movies in the light of Magnum PI? Who knows. Nice to think so.

A curious choice for a concert

It’s nice to see the return of Culture Night now that COVID-19 has been put behind us (cough) (touch wood) (it hasn’t gone away, you know). I was, however, quite surprised to see the programme put together by the National Concert Hall for its free concert on September 23rd. Earlier this year the London Times reported that the NCH would not be boycotting Russian composers after TCD and UCD announced that their orchestras would be. I am queasy about the idea of boycotting long-dead composers to protest a very live tyrant, and to simply lose the Russians blows quite the hole in the classical canon, so I was happy with the NCH’s decision. There is a difference though between not jettisoning the Russians and not playing anyone else. Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Concerto, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, arranged for orchestra by Ravel. When I first saw that programme I did a double-take, and thought Oh, it’s … All-Russian. I mean, it’s not that hard to not have an All-Russian programme, you could simply switch out Shostakovich’s Festive Overture for Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. The fact therefore that it is All-Russian seems like it is meant to say something – music is above politics, or, these men born before 1917 have nothing to do with Putin. It’s just odd for that wider politico-cultural meaning to be left unspoken, and simply rhapsodise about Russian folk rhythms and Russian drama and romance. As someone suggested to me perhaps when I attend I should also say something politico-cultural but unspoken, and wear blue and yellow.

July 31, 2022

Top 5 Jeeves & Wooster Novels

Filed under: Talking Books — Fergal Casey @ 4:16 pm

5) Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

A late entry in the Wodehouse canon, this features the almost impossibly funny speech by Sir Watkyn Basset on the destruction of his grandfather clock by one Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.

4) Joy in the Morning

Bertie tangles with the fearsomely physical nemesis Stilton Cheesewright and also gets in intellectual knots at the start with his attempt to buy Jeeves’ a suitably brainy present of a Spinoza book.

3) The Mating Season

Who can forget the moment where Catsmeat and Gussie have to perform their comic piece at the local hall and transform their slapstick into a Russian 19th century novel by their utter depression.

2) The Code of the Woosters

Bertie tangles with Roderick Spode and is supplied by Jeeves with the one word that can tame the would-be Fascist strongman’s temper.

1) Right Ho, Jeeves

There are many splendid moments in this novel, but the showstopping highlight is of course the uproarious occasion of Gussie Fink-Nottle giving out the prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School.

June 30, 2022

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XLIV

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 7:03 pm
Tags: , , ,

As the title suggests, so forth.

Totally Censored Movies

I was watching Ocean’s Eleven on TCM recently, when I had the disconcerting sensation that something had skipped, like a vinyl problem but visually. And then waiting for a line that never came, and another one I particularly treasured that also never came, I realised that the skips were very real and were in fact obnoxious censorious cuts in the movie. Somehow, this was playing after the watershed but was still censored. And then it dawned on me, this might very well be the American TV edit version of the movie. God help us. I don’t know why TCM has suddenly decided to start doing this for an audience outside America. But the mind boggles about how this could play out. Will we finally get to see for ourselves the wildly disconcerting spectacle of Cameron shouting at Ferris Bueller ‘Pardon my French but you’re an aardvark!’ or might we get the infamous Dadaist moment in The Big Lebowski when someone is told ‘This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!’ Who knows. And who knows, why after all these years TCM has chosen to do this.

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