Talking Movies

July 19, 2019

Epiphany

Druid take over the Town Hall Theatre for their premiere of a transatlantic offering for the Galway International Arts Festival.

Morkan (Marie Mullen) is hosting a dinner party with the assistance of Loren (Julia McDermott).  The perpetually drunken Freddy (Aaron Monaghan) is the first to arrive, to the disappointment of Morkan who is awaiting her celebrated nephew Gabriel Conroy, a critic for the Review, who has promised to make a speech. Her old friend Ames (Bill Irwin) slips and slides in from the snow, as do Marty Rea and Jude Akuwudike’ musicians, and the supercilious couple of Rory Nolan’s marketer Rory Nolan and Kate Kennedy’s psychiatrist. It quickly becomes clear that nobody has read the attachments to the invitation, or indeed done more than scan the invitation, and all Morkan’s plans for elaborate festivities will come to naught. And then Aran (Grace Byers) unexpectedly arrives, bearing the news that her partner Gabriel will not be joining them. And so the party begins…

Director Garry Hynes stages proceedings deliberately chaotically, so much so that at a few points I thought of all the guests roaring about the mansion after Tim Curry in Clue. There are some comic tours-de-force: Rea’s attempt to get Mullen to feed him the words and music of a song he is pretending to know, his brilliantly performed piano piece that to paraphrase John McGahern at every moment has as much reason to stop as to go on (to the consternation of Nolan’s attempts to applaud it out of existence), Irwin’s injury with a carving knife which leads him to decline coffee beans being applied to the wound because he’d be up all night, and Kennedy’s 11 probing questions that Akuwudike furiously claims to have permanently shattered Rea’s mind by making him ask of his remaining lifespan – is it enough?

But these frivolities sit uneasily beside the fact that Brooklyn playwright Brian Watkins is clearly meditating on James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, not that that was highlighted in publicity. Francis O’Connor’s impressive set with its multiple staircases creates a sense of a beloved brownstone with snow constantly seen falling thru the windows, and, in the end, of course, thru the strange black hole in the roof of the living room; that the snow might fall on all the living and the dead. Watkins has borrowed from Joyce occasion, character names and traits, and, rather astonishingly, the singing of the ‘The Lass of Aughrim’ for an epiphanic moment. And these are characters badly in need of an epiphany as they struggle sans schmartphones to remember just what Epiphany is meant to celebrate, and flail around confusedly trying to create a secular celebration.

Epiphany has a number of memorable set-pieces, its muted ending with old friends Irwin and Mullen seeing out the night is affecting, but it’s not as revelatory as hoped.

3.5/5

Epiphany continues its run at the Galway Town Hall Theatre until the 27th of June.

July 15, 2019

Kate Crackernuts

No Drama Theatre returned to Smock Alley’s main stage with an eccentric fairytale by NYC playwright and screenwriter Sheila Callaghan.

The ever capable Kate (Megan Carter) faces a challenge when her beautiful step-sister Anne (Siobhan Hickey) comes to her with a blanket over her face to hide the fact that her beautiful head has been switched for that of a sheep. Kate’s own mother (Greg Freegrove) is the suspect, but this wicked stepmother may have done it by accident, as the local mystic (Darcy Donnelan) may have got her pickled and enchanted eggs all muddled. A headless sheep (Dave McGovern) is convinced that Anne has got his head, but finds it hard to get an opportunity to just ask for his head back when Kate and Anne fall into the orbit of brothers Paul (Shane Robinson) and Ralph (Daniel O’Brien). The path of true love is not smooth though, Kate needs to wean Paul away from Miss Prima (Sorcha Maguire)…

Callaghan’s play is apparently based on a Scottish fairytale, to which she has added some modern notes. Carter splendidly embodies the no-nonsense nature of Callaghan’s heroine, an early rapid-fire exchange with her sister typical: “What did you eat for breakfast?” “An omelette” “Mother made it?” “Yes” “What she did eat?” “…Cereal” “Ah..” But Callaghan includes a fake happy ending before the more ambiguous real one because this is a fairytale that isn’t interested in simple solutions. Ralph becomes besotted with Anne, sheep’s head and all, but you shouldn’t think of Shakespeare’s Bottom so much as Woody Allen’s EYAWTKAS* (BWATA) Gene Wilder vignette. O’Brien has a scene-stealing monologue on how it’s finally his turn for romance with Anne before hysterically unconcealed disappointment that Anne has got her human head back and therefore lost that furry quality that made her his soul-mate.

The vibrant lights and sound of Dan Donnelly, Suzie Cummins, and Hasan Kamal are very effective in transforming the sparsely furnished stage into a nightclub presided over by Prima. My regular theatre cohort Fiachra MacNamara and I thoroughly disagreed over the meaning of what happened there. I took it as an allegory for drug addiction – that the more Paul, rendered by Robinson almost as a Baz Luhrmann bohemian, fell under the spell of Prima, the further he became detached from his true self, his voice (Ali Keohane). Fiachra took it as an allegory for the dwindling influence over Paul of his dead mother, which is why his voice eventually saved Prima’s neglected Baby (Rahul Dewan), trusting him to Kate. Either interpretation fits the redemptive outcome desired by Paul and Ralph’s widowed father (Greg Freegrove again), a rich but clueless king.

3/5

July 14, 2019

Notes on Stuber

Dave Bautista’s underwhelming action-comedy Stuber was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Possibly I would not have been as disappointed with this movie as I was if it had not been from the director of Goon and What If, Michael Dowse. If it had just been dull and unfunny that also would have been tolerable. The truth is that Stuber is dull, but does occasionally hit the comedic mark. The problem is that it has such a low batting average. There are jokes upon jokes, and the vast majority are not funny, which makes it frustrating when good ones do land, because if they had simply made a straightforward action film with the occasional very good joke this would be far more palatable. Even if that would be hard to do from a premise that could be summarised as ‘Mr Magoo meets the Mob’. Why screenwriter Tripper Clancy thought that was intrinsically hilarious I’m not sure as there are really only two scenes in which it yields any comedy. But not to worry tidy character arcs and life lessons abound. And that’s the real secret of comedy…

Listen here:

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 11:37 am

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Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XVI

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

 

Oh Disney, oh dear

Ahab has not any comfort while Naboth hath still his vineyard. Back in early 2016 I noted that we were being lied to, repeatedly and with purpose, by massive entertainment corporations using a media all too happy to shill for the sake of Hollywood glamour driving traffic numbers, and that I had been critiqueing this for almost as long as I’d been writing the blog. I was commenting then on Andrew O’Hehir’s attack on the nonsense surrounding The Force Awakens, and now Disney are at it again; re-releasing Avengers: Endgame, while it’s still playing, in a desperate attempt to beat Avatar’s ‘all-time’ record. O’Hehir said of The Force Awakens, “it’s not quite as ginormous and culture-dominating and universally beloved as Disney wants us to think it is … the idea of its bigness, is a central element of the Mouse House strategy to spin … a marketing, merchandising and entertainment empire.” Thank God for Morgan Friedman and the West Egg inflation calculator. The British National Lottery has a campaign at the moment promising to set you up for life with 10k every month for 30 years. Well, my first thought was that inflation will corrode that very badly. So to West Egg I went. Plugging in a 30 year period of relatively low inflation (1988-2018) I found that what cost $10k in 1988 would cost $21,427.27 in 2018. That is to say inflation at a low level would make 10k a year worth less than 5k in real terms by the end of 30 years. In just 8 years inflation made Avatar’s 2010 takings of $2,787,965,087 worth $3,284,278,512.18 in real terms. And yet Disney is insistent that Avengers: Endgame, with a year’s grace of inflation statistics that can’t be computed right now, and standing right now on Boxofficemojo.com at $2,774,567,541, is within spitting distance of catching Avatar. No, it’s not. It’s not within $13 million dollars, it’s over $500 million dollars away. And Avatar isn’t the most popular film of all time, because nobody wants to adjust for inflation for it either; because Hollywood can’t handle the fact that people are historically uninterested in cinema-going.  I think it is the mania of monopoly that drives Disney to such desperation and such mendacity. It’s not enough to dominate cinema takings in North America to the extent that the 5 biggest films of 2019 are Disney or part-Disney. It’s not enough to digest 20th Century Fox, now Fox cannot be allowed to have had any record; there was no success in cinema before there was Disney. Every time you hear Disney trumpeting how uber-successful everything is, remember you’re hearing a desperate plea for relevance rooted in monomaniac nervousness and think of Sally Field.

July 7, 2019

Notes on Apollo 11

The visually stunning Apollo 11 was the catch-up film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Director Todd Douglas Miller, who doubles as his own editor, revisits the Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years on with the help of restored archival footage from NASA and the results are visually stunning, utterly immersive, and imbued with a great generosity of spirit. This is a documentary of a rare sort: no talking heads, little editorialising beyond notes of speed distance acceleration and people where relevant – what are you watching is simply footage of the time overlaid with sound of the time. Walter Cronkite’s TV narration laid over helicopter footage of the crowds gathering at Cape Canaveral, the hum of Mission Control as the camera tracks along the interiors crowded with NASA personnel. And this 4K restored footage looks incredible, some of it from neglected 70mm footage shot at the time. There is a 1969 quality to the footage, undoubtedly, but it is so crisp you’d swear it was shot yesterday. The ravages of time have not affected this film footage; unscreened, undamaged, almost a capsule of 50 years ago waiting for rediscovery.

Listen here:

Any Other Business: Part XXXV

What is one to do, so forth.

This bank deserves a better class of journalist

Watching BBC 2’s Inside the Bank of England during the week was a profoundly dispiriting experience. The process of setting the interest rate involved the 9 member monetary policy committee being briefed on element after element of the complex matrix making up the British economy. Each briefing was the result of the work of dozens of people crunching statistics or scouting the country to gauge sentiment. The Beast from the East had hit the growth of GDP in the first quarter, so the Bank was likely to not raise interest rates to curb inflation. And what was the reaction of the journalists, who had been locked in a vault with 50 pages of material explaining the statistical context – Governor Carney, does this make the Bank an unreliable boyfriend? Are you bothered by the tag of unreliable boyfriend?

July 4, 2019

5 Works of Americana

For the day that’s in it here’re five pieces of 20th Century American music to score the 4th of July from sunrise to midnight. Shake off your drowsiness with the tremulous clarinet glissando of Gershwin, roll up your shirtsleeves with the frontier rambunctiousness of Copland, go for lunch (will you just go to lunch, George!) with the bustle of Bernstein, greet the evening with the alternating amplitude and frenzy of Gershwin (again), and then hit the energetic streets after dusk with the chromatic, romantic but nervy energy of John Adams.

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

Rodeo by Aaron Copland

Candide Overture by Leonard Bernstein

Piano Concerto in F by George Gershwin

City Noir by John Adams

 

The Age of Attenborough

The Age of Attenborough can be said to have begun on the 16th of January 1979 with the broadcasting of the first episode of Life on Earth. Attenborough, before his stint as director of BBC 2 where he pioneered Wimbledon coverage and Monty Python, had of course been presenting Zoo Quest, and he presented other programmes, even delivering the Royal Instution’s Christmas Lectures in the mid-1970s. But Life on Earth was a self-consciously landmark series in the manner of Civilisation and The Ascent of Man, which Attenborough had commissioned for BBC 2 to show the ambition of the new channel.

1979 was coincidentally also the year my parents bought a humble cathode-ray tube television which has been faithfully broadcasting Attenborough’s explorations of the natural world since Life on Earth and will remain his faithful servant, as RTE 1 prepares to screen his Dynasties programme, until the 6th of August at which point the analogue signal will be turned off and this technical marvel bow out after 40 years of service.

The series that Attenborough has made over those 40 years are astonishing: The Living Planet, The First Eden, Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives, The Trials of Life, Life in the Freezer, The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Birds, The Human Face, The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, Life in the Undergrowth, Planet Earth, Life in Cold Blood, Life, Madagascar, Frozen Planet, Kingdom of Plants, Galapagos, Africa, Micro Monsters, Life Story, Conquest of the Skies, The Hunt, Great Barrier Reef, Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, Dynasties, Our Planet.

July 2, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 5:43 pm

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