Talking Movies

May 30, 2016

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Director David Grindley and actor Denis Conway follow their celebrated collaboration on The Gigli Concert last year with another revival of an intense chamber piece.

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George (Denis Conway) is a disappointed history professor whose career has been hindered more than helped by his wife Martha (Fiona Bell) being the daughter of the college president. When they arrive back, slightly drunk, from a mixer for new faculty members he is horrified to learn she has invited back a younger couple to their house for yet more drinking. When the couple arrive, biology professor Nick (Mark Huberman) and his slim-hipped wife Honey (Sophie Robinson), George and Martha soon get roaring drunk and verbally flay each other, to the bemusement of Nick and Honey, before Martha crosses a line and George reacts with violence that escalates from flamboyantly physical to cruelly psychological. And once the mind-games begin in earnest Nick and Honey are dragged down too as the secrets and lies of their marriage are brought to light.

Grindley and designer Jonathan Fensom wall in a substantial part of the Gate’s playing space to shrink down proceedings into one claustrophobic living room. An arena cluttered with the detritus of academic life, which nobody can escape until the mind games have reached a conclusion, it is decorated in an unlikely pervasive red as if to hint at Albee’s inheritance from Strindberg’s pioneering psychodramas. Conway bounces about this tight space in a masterly agile performance. George effortlessly swings from slothful self-pity to sprightly spitefulness via notes of camp and anger, and almost seems to be the conductor of this concerto of callousness. Bell, however, gives the standout performance. Her slovenly Martha is a masterpiece in drunken physicality, with her thwarted ambition producing caustic kvetching in a slumming accent, before Bell delivers a tearful and wonderfully affecting monologue in the finale.

Sophie Robinson as the none too bright Honey is a revelation. She failed to project the necessary comic vivacity as Viola in the Abbey’s 2014 Twelfth Night, but under Grindley’s direction she is this production’s comedic ace in the hole. Honey’s ability to turn on her husband with sharp rejoinders alternates ecstatically with total obliviousness (such as not realising that George is narrating her own life story to her) and non sequiturs (such as egging on a potential fight between George and Nick with “Violence! Violence!”). Mark Huberman has the least rewarding role as Nick, but he hits the right note as the stolid scientist with just a touch of the jock in his make-up: pompously standing on his dignity when he’s not trying to hump the hostess. The performances are further testament to Grindley’s skill as an actor’s director.

This is a wonderful production, yet Grindley’s consistent skill in investing static psychodramas with terrific performances can make it hard to discern his overall artistic intent in these plays.

4/5

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? continues its run at the Gate Theatre until the 11th of June.

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May 27, 2016

The Price of Desire

Mary McGuckian directs an impressionistic portrait of Irish designer Eileen Gray’s battles over authorship with egotistical French architect Le Corbusier.

Eileen Gray (Orla Brady) is an Irishwoman abroad, leading an emancipated life in post-WWI France as a designer, riding the wave of the same zeitgeist as the Bauhaus school in the Weimar Republic. A romantic relationship with the rich Jean Badovici (Francesco Scianna) sees her designing a villa for him on the Côte d’Azur, e1027. Badovici, however, is also promoting the work of architect and self-promoter extraordinaire Le Corbusier (Vincent Perez). Gray and Badovici grow apart as he spends more time with younger women and she more time with American lesbians, and Le Corbusier takes advantage. First he defaces her villa with his inane murals, by the end he will have pretensions to have designed the entire building, and decades later be pleading with wealthy patrons to save his hideously inappropriate murals as being the creative soul of the piece.

McGuckian’s film is so minimalist as to be quite theatrical, perhaps as a creative response to its small budget. Scenes in which Gray and other artists critique a gallery exhibition feel like they’re taking place on a small and obvious stage, as do scenes with Alanis Morrisette as Gray’s lover Marisa Damia. It’s a disorienting effect, and when combined with the extreme contrast of the sun-dappled Riviera locale of e1027, the unusually short scenes, the constant fade-out and fade-ins, and the characters’ fluid switching between French and English, it all goes towards creating an oddly dreamlike effect: an after-image is left of natural white Riviera sunlight and artificial black modernist interiors across which an impression of Gray’s life and work was sketched. This approach is unusual, and perhaps explains the slightly hysterical hostile reception afforded the movie at JDIFF 2015.

This is itself a mere sketch of a review, as I was unable to make recent press screenings, and so am working from notes on that JDIFF version. It would be surprising if it had not been reworked after that critical mauling. The Price of Desire in that cut also eschews straight naturalism by being extremely heavily scored, but Brian Byrne’s music is one of its strongest elements; indeed at times with sinuous timbres of woodwind and string he appears to be channelling the sound of the fabled French group of composers Les Six to conjure the post-WWI era depicted. Another highlight was Vincent Perez, who broke the fourth wall as a fantastically egotistical Le Corbusier; his unpleasant dogmatism pushed him close to Sartre’s continual philosophical revisions – ever protean but never wrongand James Joyce’s depiction as parasite in Nora.

“The house is a machine for living in” declared Le Corbusier, but this dream of heat and sensuality suggests Gray’s vision of form, functionality, and sleek beauty through minimalism ultimately had far more soul.

3/5

 

***The Lighthouse Cinema will host an afternoon and evening tomorrow celebrating the Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray on film, with The Price of Desire alongside companion documentary Gray Matters. Gray Matters, directed by Marco Orsini, documents the long, fascinating life and career of the architect and designer whose uncompromising vision defined the practice of modernism in decoration, design, and architecture. “We hope the day will be an engaging opportunity for the public to explore and immerse themselves with this unique and wonderfully talented Irish creative, to converse with the film-makers and Eileen Gray experts involved in both projects,” says Mary McGuckian. Q&A panels will follow screenings of Gray Matters (matinee) and The Price of Desire (evening screening). Panelists will include Mary McGuckian (writer/director), Peter O’Brien (costume designer), Jennifer Goff (Eileen Gray curator, The National Museum of Ireland), and they will be moderated by former Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald. The event will also feature an exhibition of stills from The Price of Desire, shot by Julian Lennon and published by Stoney Road Press, and a selection of Eileen Gray furniture on display, courtesy of MINIMA Ireland. Tickets can be purchased online at www.lighthousecinema.ie

 

 

Tarzan swings in to Bloom

Warner Bros. have commissioned multiple Gold Medal Winners Liat & Oliver Schurmann to create The Legend of Tarzan Garden which will be unveiled as part of this year’s Bloom 2016 Festival on June 2nd. Inspiration for the garden comes from the upcoming adventure film The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan and Margot Robbie as Jane, which swings into Irish cinemas on July 8th 2016.

The garden invites visitors into a verdant African jungle, which incorporates an overhead canopy of foliage and a sparkling water feature, truly a magical place that will inspire the imaginations of children and adults alike. In the distance, an army of gorillas reflects the wildness of Tarzan’s tropical home. The hanging mist and mysterious sounds transport the visitor into the rain-forests of Africa, to experience in person the atmosphere of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved creation. Liat & Oliver Schurmann run Mount Venus Nursery in Dublin, a specialist nursery for unusual perennials and grasses. They have supplied plants to Buckingham Palace, and have won many gold medals for floral displays and exhibits. They design gardens in the public sector as well as providing consultancy and giving talks, and have a reputation for extraordinary design, combining practicality with sustainability.

Bord Bia’s Bloom event will take place in the Phoenix Park, Dublin from Thursday 2nd June – Monday 6th June. This year marks its 10th anniversary, and as Ireland’s largest gardening, food and family festival it is now a key feature of the June bank holiday weekend; with more than 100,000 visitors last year. The annual showcase for Ireland’s horticulture and food industry will feature a range of impressive show gardens, food features, and family entertainment. Tickets are on sale now on www.bloominthepark.com and kids go free. Visitors to the garden will have the opportunity enter a competition to win tickets to the European Premiere of The Legend of Tarzan in London on July 5th.

The Legend of Tarzan finds Tarzan leading a gentrified life as Lord Greystoke with his beloved wife Jane at his side.  But, invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, he becomes a pawn in a deadly game of greed and revenge masterminded by Belgian Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who has no idea what primal fury he is about to unleash… The question of whether it’s wise to use the unimaginable horrors of the Belgian Congo as so much cod-historical backdrop for an action romp is probably not one that concerned screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer. Harry Potter main-man David Yates is directing, not Nicolas Roeg or Francis Ford Coppolla, so such ahistoric set-dressing was never going to yield to an agonised cri de couer like Heart of Darkness.

May 11, 2016

Green Room

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier follows up the succes d’estime of his second feature, 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin, with an equally visceral assault on mainstream horror.

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The Ain’t Rights wake up in their tour van to find they’re out of gas and off the road. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) cycle to a parking lot to siphon gas. Rescuing the stranded Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) they head to a disastrous afternoon gig after which apologetic DJ Tad (David W Thompson) sets them up with a backwoods gig for gas money. They are troubled to find a certain neo-Nazi vibe there, and so naturally lead off with a provocative Dead Kennedys number. But when they walk offstage to find Amber (Imogen Poots) and Werm (Brent Werzner) standing over the dead body of Emily (Taylor Tunes) in the green room, provoking neo-Nazis goes from a risky proposition to a lethal one as Gabe (Macon Blair) imprisons them, waiting for supremo Darcy (Patrick Stewart)…

Green Room recalls 2008’s Eden Lake. Saulnier’s writing and directing are spare and taut and the shlock horror practical FX are exemplary. Eden Lake was an equally superb technical achievement that belied its small budget and announced James Watkins as a notable talent. Reviewing Eden Lake, however, I couldn’t think of a single reason to recommend watching it. It was horror without humour, without the supernatural, without hope or relief; horror that could actually happen, and to you. Green Room is an equally plausible nightmare. You are stapled to your chair by dread and tension, even though there is humour in Macon’s nice guy thug, and the band’s agonising over their Desert Island Discs picks. Stewart is a gruff presence but Poots steals the film with the best lines (“Madonna. … And Slayer”) and a casual facility with extreme violence.

Green Room is not an easy watch. Once Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) is insinuated into the green room to guard the band the clever edits, memorable imagery, and character moments of touring musicians become a distant memory. Dogs rip out throats, box-cutters slice open stomachs, heads explode with shotgun blasts, arms are broken asunder, and a Gotham-aping mutilation occurs. This is where the lack of supernatural or glee becomes a problem. The Kingslayer losing his sword-hand for acting morally in Games of Thrones horrifies in a way that Ash losing his hand in Evil Dead 2 does not, not only because of differences in overall tone but also because it’s his self-definition. Saulnier goes grand guignol gross-out on the mutilation, then backpedals on its life-altering horror by visually covering it up, as if belatedly concerned it’s excessive enough to distract.

Green Room is undeniably an indelible cinematic experience, but not one that will leave fond memories. We await Saulnier’s impending MR James adaptation Red Rune with an awed anticipation.

3/5

May 3, 2016

Northern Star

Director Lynne Parker revisits her late uncle Stewart Parker’s 1984 script again, with a Brechtian touch, and the result is a theatrical tour de force.

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Henry Joy McCracken (Paul Mallon) is on the run. The 1798 Rebellion has failed miserably in Antrim as he has found himself leading literally dozens of men, to exaggerate slightly. And exaggerating slightly is something McCracken does a lot during a purgatorial night in a ruined house with his Catholic lover Mary (Charlotte McCurry). As he attempts to construct some sort of decent speech from the gallows for the citizens of Belfast he trawls through his memories of the 1790s, remembered in flashbacks that approximate to Shakespeare’s 7 Ages of Man and to the style of 7 different Irish playwrights. There is the ribald shenanigans of Sheridan in rooting out informers, the melodramatic balderdash of Boucicault in uniting Defenders and Orangemen, and the witty quips of Wilde in McCracken’s dealing with Wolfe Tone and Edward Bunting. But there’s also darkness…

Lynne Parker has spoken of adopting a Brechtian approach by having McCracken identified by his jacket, so Mallon can hand it over to other actors and sit back and observe himself in his own flashbacks; played by Ali White with gusto in the Boucicault flashback and with comic disbelief in the O’Casey flashback. This combined with Zia Holly’s design, confronting the audience with the wings of a theatre as the playing space, amps up the theatricality of Stewart Parker’s script, which was already reminiscent of Stoppard’s Travesties in its dialogue with and pitch-perfect parodies of older works. Rory Nolan is hilarious as a dodgy Defender played in the style of O’Casey’s Paycock, and as harp enthusiast Edward Bunting played as Algernon Moncrieff’s ancestor, in Stewart Parker’s two most acute ventriloquisms. But all these capers occur underneath an ever-present literal noose.

Mallon and McCurry scenes in McCracken’s long night of the soul are the emotional glue that binds together the fantastical flashbacks, and they are affecting as she tries to convince him that his sister’s plan to escape to America under false papers is a reprieve not banishment. The flashbacks become more contemplative after the interval with Darragh Kelly’s loyalist labourer challenging McCracken over his failure to rally Protestants to the United Irishmen’s standard, and a prison flashback revealing the desperation of McCracken’s situation. Richard Clements, Eleanor Methven, and Robbie O’Connor complete the ensemble, deftly portraying a dizzying array of characters in McCracken’s remembrances. Mallon is wonderfully melancholic during Parker’s most overtly state of the nation moments, and remarkably, even with the Troubles’ paramilitary iconography at work, a 1984 play about 1798 sounds like it’s addressing 1916 at a theatrical remove.

Rough Magic’s 2012 Travesties occasionally lost the audience with its intellectual bravura, but Lynne Parker through theatrical panache has indeed ‘liberated’ this equally clever meditation on history and culture.

4/5

Northern Star continues its run at the Project Arts Centre until the 7th of May.

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