Talking Movies

October 29, 2016

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Filed under: Talking Theatre (Reviews) — Fergal Casey @ 8:41 pm

Druid revisit Martin McDonagh’s startling debut 20 years after its debut and the result is spellbinding.

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Maureen (Aisling O’Sullivan) lives a tormented life, continually at the beck and call of her dishevelled, demanding, hypochondriac mother Mag (Marie Mullen). There is little to look forward to this in emotionally barren Wesht. The visits of Aaron Monaghan’s easily bored neighbour are the only thing keeping the two women from each other’s throats. And then he arrives to invite Maureen to a do, at the behest of his brother Pato Dooley (Marty Rea). Pato and Maureen make a connection, much to the displeasure of Mag, and the stage is set for an attempt at escape and an attempt at confinement.

It’s been some years since I saw Nessa Matthews and Molly O’Mahony perform the script in UCD Dramsoc, without an interval, and at a fast pace, so what was most noticeable about the playing here was the patience of Garry Hynes’ direction. Rea’s show-stopping monologue, writing the most rambling letter home from London imaginable, became a comic tour-de-force simply because he was allowed to pause so much effect. At the other end of the dramatic scale, the most disturbing scene in the entire play was allowed to build slowly, so that dread filled the Gaiety; the inimitable sound of 2,000 people holding their breath.

5/5

The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues its run at the Gaiety until the 29th of October before beginning a tour of North America.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Filed under: Talking Movies (Reviews) — Fergal Casey @ 1:26 am

Werner Herzog returns with a typically eccentric documentary on the internet which explores many fascinating topics with the likes of Elon Musk.

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‘Lo’ was the word, caused by a crash during writing ‘login’, that uttered in the world we now live in. That is the starting point of Herzog’s interviews with the men who created the internet as a means for computers to talk to each other to ensure human annihilation during the Cold War, and which now allows humans to talk to each to ensure … well, exactly what the internet ensures is something Herzog ponders over in the 10 chapters of the movie. He meets a family trolled with unbelievable cruelty so that the grieving mother seems not off point when she mutters that the Anti-Christ is entwined with the internet, as well as computer addicts whose lives have been ruined by the lure of the screen. But he also meets Elon Musk, full of enthusiasm for the internet on Mars, and scientists conducting experiments to see if thinking a thought can someday be used to issue commands to a computer.

‘Does the internet dream of itself?’ is the trademark bizarre Herzog enquiry, but this is a film filled with nightmares. If Napoleon was undone by the length of his supply chains to Moscow then humanity itself appears to be in an equally perilous state of being drawn ever further into the soon to be icy grip of our own Russian winter. Herzog unleashes a barrage of scenarios in which the world can no longer function, even down to feeding the population, as life has become too automated for its own good.

5/5

Politik: Part IV

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 1:21 am

Lamentably a return to political matters, after thinking about art and propaganda vis a vis I, Daniel Blake and reading A Very British Coup.

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Lies, lies, and propaganda

Does a government have a right to use taxpayers’ money to fund propaganda campaigns designed to turn some citizens against others? That’s a thought that’s been nagging me a lot recently in cinemas as I’ve sat aghast and agog at a cutesy animation explaining why the nonsense ‘reforms’ of the Junior Cert could only be opposed by heartless monsters equally opposed to learning and out of touch with the real world. It’s hard to find the animation on YouTube for some reason… Possibly because it is targeted at a captive youth audience who for once can’t escape the ads. It takes seconds to articulate an argument against Ruari Quinn’s pet project. If you and your teacher are engaged in a profoundly active balance of terror do you really want that person marking all your work for three years, or would you prefer that your work be in the final analysis independently judged by somebody else, anonymously, and far away from the grudges of your school? Quinn’s folly was based on the syllogism that the Junior Cert needed reform, this was a reform, therefore it needed this reform; without ever articulating why the Junior Cert needed reform. Surely now that Quinn and his party have deservedly been removed from office and almost from existence by an electorate with an unusually good memory of the pig in a poke they were sold in 2011 it is time for his nonsense to be dropped before a system of blind meritocracy is replaced by a system obviously open to abuse. And for God’s sake stop wasting public money on an advertising campaign that would embarrass a communist regime in its substitution of marketing asininity for mental acuity.

God, Lana, read a book!

The latest in a slew of recent mortgage ads had a young hipster smugly proclaim in voice-over “We’re the first generation in history to live life on our own terms.” … … … The level of historical obliviousness it takes to usher such a sentiment from brainstorming meeting in a hipster advertising agency, through copy-writing and presenting to the client, on into the recording booth, and finally into the editing suite; without anyone questioning whether this assertion might be coming it devilishly high; is truly jaw-dropping. One wonders what the Bright Young Things might have made of such a dismissal of their daring, or what Byron et al might have had to reply in doggerel to it, or the Young Hegelians disproving it in rigorous dialectics through which they now knew how (for the first time [sic] in history) to announce the end of history. It appears there may have been a derisive snort aimed at the right place, because the offending ad is now airing on TV – with a different voice-over, one that admits that we might not have much stuff but we love the stuff we have. A folksy sentiment to warm the cockles of Abraham Lincoln’s heart.

October 21, 2016

I, Daniel Blake

Ken Loach returns from his Sinatraesque retirement with a film that leads you to question not Tory policy but the line between art and propaganda.

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Geordie carpenter Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is unwell. He had a heart attack, nearly fell off a scaffold, and is waiting for doctors to clear him for work. The Kafkaesque welfare system deems him fit for work, however, so his benefits are stopped. Trying to appeal is impossible until a phone call from the ‘Decision Maker’, which should though have preceded the letter cutting off his benefits. Dan is forced onto the dole, where he must prove to a veritable Eichmann of the Welfare Office, Sheila (Sharon Percy), that he is indeed actively looking for work he is physically unable to perform. Humiliated Dan befriends another victim, Londoner Katie (Hayley Squires), who has been moved up North with her children Daisy (Briana Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan), by Tory plans to gentrify London by cleansing it of such benefits scroungers.

Watching I, Daniel Blake is like being trapped in an empty carriage with Jeremy Corbyn on a slow train from London to Newcastle, it’s like being bludgeoned on the head repeatedly with Michael Foot’s 1983 election manifesto, it’s like having John McDonnell endlessly throw Mao’s little red book in your face from an infinite supply. Screenwriter Paul Laverty artistically stacks the deck, loads the dice, and magnetises the roulette wheel, so comprehensively does he put his agit-prop puppets (poorly disguised as characters) thru the wringer in a plot so unrelentingly grim and ploddingly signposted that its ‘moving’ finale becomes unintentionally funny. My mind wandered so much I wondered whether Laverty and Loach tackling Free-born John Lilburne might have forced them to make actual art, rather than blatant propaganda, by dint of having to use allegory for their contemporary political points.

Daniel is told some employers want video CVs recorded on schmartphones. Loach might have been better served uploading a short screed decrying the Tories, because futility hangs over this. WH Auden said his verse didn’t save a single Jew from the Nazis, but Loach did force change once – with Cathy Come Home, in 1966; before the fragmentation of Britain’s TV audience. But who is he talking to now? I, Daniel Blake is absent from Savoy, Dundrum, IMC Tallaght, and has but 2 shows tomorrow in Cineworld where Jack Reacher has 8, on considerably larger screens. Loach is making clarion calls for the working-class, which will be viewed as art-house fare by some of the middle-class; champagne socialists perhaps. Watching this clumsy tub-thumping film, complete with Hollywood’s clichéd ‘precocious young girl’, is like having a screw slowly hammered into your head…

The only rational response to I, Daniel Blake is to fall asleep in the cinema or undo Loach’s work with the liberal application of screwdrivers at the nearest bar.

0/5

Keeping up with the Joneses

Director Greg Mottola returns to cinemas for the first time since Paul, but working with inferior material to his recent Rogen, Pegg, and Sorkin scripts.

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Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis) is an ineffectual HR drone who is genially disregarded by all the people with security clearance at major weapons manufacturer McDowell-Burton International. His wife Karen (Isla Fisher) is dissatisfied designing an absurd bathroom for obnoxious neighbours the Craverstons (being a largely wasted VEEP star Matt Walsh as Dan and Maribeth Monroe as Meg). As the Gaffneys agonise over how to utilise their sons’ time at summer camp to revitalise their marriage new neighbours arrive; the uber-stylish uber-sophisticated Joneses, Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot). Jeff is surprised at Tim, the travel writer who blows glass sculptures as a hobby, befriending him. But Karen grows suspicious that Tim and Natalie are actually spies, and when Jeff takes his concerns to MBI security officer Carl Pronger (Kevin Dunn), the Gaffneys enter the sinister world of ‘The Scorpion’.

What exactly is Greg Mottola, director of Arrested Development, The Newsroom, Superbad, Paul and Adventureland, doing helming this action-comedy? This is the comediocre terrain of hack auteurs like Shawn Levy or (shudder) Paul Feig. Mottola has some fun playing on the remarkable coincidence that Gadot & Hamm are both 7 inches taller than their counterparts Fisher & Galifianakis. There’s a lot of looming… It’s a treat to hear Gadot berating Hamm in rapid-fire Hebrew insults, but there’s not a whole lot else going on. Mottola shoots action with pleasing commitment to practical stunt-work, and throws in gleefully parodic action-hero slo-mo and hero shots of Gadot and Hamm, but the lack of any real driving comedic intent is almost metatextually reflected in Andrew Dunn’s cinematography being remarkably soft-focus; as if he was massaging out the cast’s wrinkles in Murder, She Wrote.

Michael LeSieur’s screenplay is a strange beast, and it’s hard to see what in it attracted Mottola. This film is obviously in debt to Mr & Mrs Smith, and even that had longueurs, but Keeping up with the Joneses lacks that movie’s over-arching sense of fun; which kept the wheels spinning when there were no actual jokes. Here LeSieur has very few actual jokes at all, and, in sending Jeff on trips to exotic snake restaurants with Tim, slips into what feels like a tip of the hat to David Duchovny’s intermittently interesting satire The Joneses; where perfect new neighbours are actually a guerrilla sales team. Depressingly early on you realise this is another major studio comedy that has tidy plotting and neat character arcs, and basically no jokes. When exactly did that approach to writing ‘comedy’ become conventional wisdom?

Keeping up with the Joneses just about holds the attention, but given the calibre of talent involved you just wonder how nobody noticed that it wasn’t actually … funny.

1.5/5

October 16, 2016

Hamlet

Director Geoff O’Keeffe fashions an intriguing interpretation of Claudius in an energetic production of Hamlet at the Mill Theatre Dundrum.

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Prince Hamlet (Shane O’Regan) is in mourning for his father, Old Hamlet. But the rest of the court is celebrating as Old Hamlet’s brother Claudius (Neill Fleming) has succeeded not only to the throne, but also to the royal bed, unexpectedly marrying the widowed Queen Gertrude (Claire O’Donovan). But Hamlet’s isolated mourning turns to bloody thoughts of vengeance when his friend Horatio (Stephen O’Leary) reveals that Old Hamlet’s ghost has been haunting the battlements of Elsinore, and the ghost reveals Claudius as a murderous usurper. As Hamlet feigns madness to better hatch his revenge, the guilt-ridden Claudius seeks the aid of pompous counsellor Polonius (Damien Devaney), whose children Ophelia (Clara Harte) and Laertes (Matthew O’Brien) will become tragically ensnared in the mayhem that consumes the court, as will Hamlet’s untrustworthy university friends Rosencrantz (Paul Quinn Jr) and Guildenstern (Graeme Coughlan).

All Hamlets are alike; each Claudius is Claudius in its own way. O’Keeffe has Fleming play both Claudius and Old Hamlet, using Declan Brennan’s video projection to allow a hirsute Fleming loom over proceedings while a shaven Fleming commands the stage as the surviving brother.  Fleming is inspired as an unpredictable King. Laertes almost flinches when begging permission to leave, as if Claudius might react violently. This is a man the court has yet to take the measure of, and he is given an unexpectedly hot-blooded relationship with Gertrude, as well as a jaw-dropping moment where he joins Hamlet’s laughing at his own bad pun before dispassionately punching him. Fleming’s Claudius edges close to Macbeth, possibly a good man before ambition and adulterous desire undid him. He is also surprisingly funny, many facial expressions giving a ‘Dear God, why must everything be so difficult?!’ exasperation at the courtiers he has won, culminating in a sardonic toast with the poisoned chalice.

O’Regan is a very physical Hamlet, dashing Ophelia to the ground in a rage that shocks himself, and later performing a flying leap on to Gertrude’s bed to pin her to it while he harangues her for marrying Claudius. But he also shrinks into a haunted crouch to deliver ‘To be or not to be’, as Kris Mooney’s lights dim and adopt one colour (blue, green, orange) during each soliloquy to bring us a privileged glimpse inside the mind of Hamlet or Claudius. O’Regan and O’Brien are noticeably youthful, believable as university students rather than the customary thirtysomethings. Gerard Bourke’s ingenious set design, steps leading down from a tall castle wall and a shorter glass-panelled wall, enables fluid movement between scenes, and O’Keeffe wrings some great laughs from offhand moments in the text. But where Keith Thompson chopped famous lines in his 2012 production, O’Keefe is less willing to wield scissors. Harte is a patient Ophelia, and Devaney conveys how sensible Polonius believes himself, but strict fidelity to their lines is a synecdoche of the show sacrificing pace for completeness.

This Hamlet undeniably loses momentum after the interval when it could use trimming, but its central disputants Hamlet and Claudius are given memorable life.

3.5/5

Hamlet continues its run at the Mill Theatre Dundrum until the 28th of October.

October 6, 2016

War on Everyone

John Michael McDonagh’s third film as writer/director attempts to mash up the concerns of his first two films, The Guard and Calvary, with intermittent success.

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Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) is rarely sober. His work buddy Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) is rarely polite. But that doesn’t matter because they literally have a get out of jail free card, they’re cops. But they won’t be cops for much longer if Lt. Stanton (Paul Reiser) doesn’t see them rein in the lunacy. Dialling down the public drunkenness and excessive force is a huge ask when Terry and Bob stumble, via their CI Reggie (Malcolm Barrett), onto a complicated heist. Dazzled by the prospect of acquiring riches; and on Terry’s part, Jackie (Tessa Thompson), a moll at a loose end; the dirty duo unwittingly put themselves in the bad books with an unlikely mastermind after one beating a suspect mercilessly too far. Lord James Mangan (Theo James) is the nemesis fate has set up for these cheerfully corrupt detectives.

War on Everyone does not live up to the high expectations held for it as while it features any number of hilarious lines and ideas it never truly gels. It doesn’t rattle along like an absurdist procedural with philosophical tangents, but it isn’t an episodic tale in service of a larger philosophical meditation either, so it falls between the two stools of The Guard and Calvary. Lorne Balfe’s score is heroically in thrall to 1970s brass, funk and bombast, while Terry’s preoccupation with Glen Campbell finds full tuneful fulfilment on the soundtrack. The New Mexico locations are strikingly captured by Oren Moverman’s regular cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, a highlight being a distant tracking shot capturing Skarsgard chasing a perp. And in a delirious scripting touch Terry’s constant outrageous drinking is shown wreaking havoc on his memory and his ability to work.

War on Everyone is a memorable film, not a great one, but a patchwork that uses to the full its licence to offend is preferable to any cookie-cutter banality.

3.5/5

October 3, 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Director Sean Holmes returns to the Dublin after his bold version of The Plough and the Stars some months back, but this show seems to indicate he was on his very best behaviour for that…

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The implacable Duke of Athens Theseus (Harry Jardine) is distracted from his upcoming nuptials to Hippolyta (Cat Simmons) by romantic problems in his court, specifically the complaint of Egeus (Ferdy Roberts) that Lysander (John Lightbody) has wooed his daughter Hermia, despite Egeus sanctioning her betrothal to Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander run away to the forest beyond the writ of Theseus, but a jealous Helen (Clare Dunne) betrays her erstwhile friend Hermia by telling Demetrius of this deception. As the four lovers stumble thru the forest they fall foul of the machinations of quarrelling fairy royal couple, Oberon and Titania (Jardine and Simmons again). Oberon, aided by his faithful spirit Puck (Roberts again), amuses himself toying with the mortals’ affections, and humiliates his Queen into the bargain by making her fall in love with Bottom (Fergus O’Donnell), transformed into a donkey.

Well, that’s the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Holmes and co-director Stef O’Driscoll don’t seem to have much interest in that. Instead the focus is on Ed Gaughan as Peter Quince, Fergus O’Donnell as Bottom, and Keith De Barra as Keith the gentlest drummer in Wicklow three years running – aka The Mechanicals. Who doesn’t love a high concept ditched at the first sign of trouble? Well, I don’t when a large portion of the running time is spent in setting up the conceit that O’Donnell is a Mancunian musician stepping in from the audience to keep the show going after we’ve been told guest star Brendan Gleeson is trapped in a lift and can’t play Bottom so the show can’t go on, and that concept then fades into air, thin air, after generating too much ‘meta-fiction’ hot air.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, I will not say that what occurred at the Grand Canal Theatre the other night was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but rather a mixture of stand-up comedy, slapstick nonsense, sub-D’Unbelievables audience interaction, and musical numbers, into which iambs from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were introduced from time to time with a decent show of regularity. If, like Blackadder, you cannot find comedy in Shakespeare’s comedies, you don’t have to do them; you can do something else instead, maybe something that’s more your cup of tea, like Noises Off. I gave tgSTAN’s Cherry Orchard and Holmes’ Plough & Stars enthusiastic standing ovations, but I did not stand and clap this, because to deliver a bold and vibrant interpretation of a classic it is first necessary to engage with the actual text of the classic.

Cat Simmons was magnificently cast as Titania, someday I hope to see her perform the role in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

2.5/5

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