Talking Movies

August 2, 2010

Death of a Salesman

Harris Yulin, familiar as a ‘That Guy’ from Looking for RichardBuffy, and 24, gets a chance to shine in a lead role in this revival of Arthur Miller’s coruscating 1949 play.

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Salesman was a devastating response to people embracing the post-war boom by forgetting that the last boom, driven by cheap credit and property speculation, had produced the intractable Great Depression. The American Dream requires both such collective amnesia and a self-delusion that everyone can succeed in a system whose rules only allow some succeed. Such self-defeating dreaming is articulately skewered by Miller in the self-deceptions of the titular salesman Willie Loman. Talking of dreams – “Who let Ellen Page loose in here?” asked fellow Inception fan Stephen Errity (stephenerrity.wordpress.com) as we first noticed Michael Pavelka’s set, which tilts towards the audience from a height of a few feet, even as the facade of a hideous apartment building with a tree growing through it topples towards the actors. This set communicates Willie’s loosening grip on reality. His sons complain that he is talking to himself at night, but really he is talking to them, his reality is slipping from the present to events from years gone by. He interacts with teenaged versions of his sons in scenes which start purely in his mind and then explode into physical life with the help of quick costume and hair-style changes. Director David Esbjornson also skilfully employs the mobile props on the stage to slide between locations and temporalities.

Willie raised his sons to believe they were leaders of men and he clings to delusions of his own importance despite being forced back on the road instead of receiving the office job he was promised for his trailblazing work for the firm as a younger man. Willie is a willing victim because he has been bewitched by the notion that everyone can end up like his brother Ben who boasts – “When I was 17 I walked into the jungle, and when I was 21 I walked out. And by God I was rich.” His implosion due to money worries, in particular a meltdown with his old boss’s feckless son, is incredibly raw as Yulin does justice to Miller’s script, which wraps an emotional knock-out punch around his politico-economic message.

Willie’s disintegration is given its pathos by the effect it has on his family. Garrett Lombard as Willie’s eldest son Biff (an aimless self-loathing drifter), Rory Nolan as the younger Happy (mildly successful in business but insanely successful in womanising), and Deirdre Donnelly as long-suffering wife Linda, make you care intensely for their flawed characters and their various efforts to save their everyman patriarch, particularly a heart-rending restaurant scene where Biff attempts to lay bare the lies he and Willie have told themselves over the years. Lombard’s accent became pure mule during some tense scenes but that problem should disappear as the run continues, while in minor support the Gate ‘repertory’ enjoy themselves with Stephen Brennan’s luminous white-suited Ben out-Fassbendering Barry McGovern’s droll waiter and John Kavanagh’s Charley.

Miller was sometimes criticised for letting his moral concerns trump naturalistic dialogue but this production is riveting theatre.

4/5

Death of a Salesman runs at the Gate Theatre until September 25th.

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January 24, 2017

ADIFF: Oscar movies

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017 offers the first chance for Irish audiences to see five of the films nominated for Academy Awards earlier today.
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Best Animated Feature Film nominees The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette will screen as part of the ADIFF Fantastic Flix children’s and young people’s strand, while Best Documentary Feature nominee I Am Not Your Negro and Best Foreign Language nominees Tanna and The Salesman feature as part of the main ADIFF programme. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that I Am Not Your Negro and The Salesman were featured in Talking Movies’ 17 films to watch at ADIFF when the programme was announced last week. Elsewhere Irish actress Ruth Negga was nominated for Loving, ADIFF Volta Award-winning Irish costume designer Consolata Boyle, was given a nod for Best Costume Design for Florence Foster Jenkins; and two films from last year’s ADIFF programme, Zootopia and Land of Mine, were also shortlisted.

The Red Turtle –Fantastic Flix’s Opening Film
A man is shipwrecked on a beautiful island devoid of humans and must make the most of what he has to survive. Watched on by a group of sand crabs, he attempts to escape but is thwarted by the weather and a red turtle with a vendetta. Then an unexpected visitor arrives who will alter the man’s fate for all time.

10th Feb, 6.30pm at Omniplex Rathmines.

My Life as a Courgette
After his mother’s sudden death, Courgette is befriended by a kind police officer Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home filled with other orphans his age. At first, Courgette struggles to find his place in this strange, at times, hostile environment. Yet with Raymond’s help and his newfound friends, he eventually learns to trust, finds true love and at last a new family of his own.
17th Feb 2017 11.50am at Omniplex Rathmines.

I Am Not Your Negro
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and with unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work,  Raoul Peck has completed the cinematic version of the book Baldwin never wrote – a radical narration about race in America that tracks the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Whilst partly anchored in the struggle for equality in the ’50s and ’60s, I Am Not Your Negro sees Peck extrapolate from Baldwin’s actual work to make his own statements about what it means to be black in America today.

Tuesday 21st February, 8:45pm at the Light House Cinema

Tanna
Tanna is a captivating romance set amongst the Yakel people of Vanuatu and is the first feature film shot completely on that island. Based on real events, and written in collaboration with the cast (all non-professionals), the film tells the story of Wawa and Dain, a young couple in love who must go on the run to escape Wawa’s arranged marriage to an enemy tribe.

Sunday 26th Feb 2017, 2 pm at the Light House Cinema

The Salesman
After making his previous film (The Past) in France, Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationAbout Elly) returns to his native Tehran for this story about a couple forced out of their apartment due to dangerous works on a neighbour’s building. Emad and Rana move into a new flat in the centre of Tehran, where an incident linked to the previous tenant will dramatically change the young couple’s life. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman plays an unexpected part in proceedings, as the nature of honour and violence are explored in typically metaphorical Iranian style.
Friday 17th Feb, 6.15pm. Cineworld

Tickets for the 2017 programme are available to buy online at diff.ie, in person at DIFF House & Box Office, 13 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1 or by phoning 01 6877974.

January 19, 2017

ADIFF 2017: 17 Films

Booking is now open for ADIFF 2017 at diff.ie, and here are 17 films that deserve your attention.free-fire-cillian-murphy-brie-larsen-armie-hammer

Free Fire

Directed by Ben Wheatley (2016, 90 mins)
It’s 1978. Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer) who are selling them a stash of guns. Everything seems to be going smoothly at first, but when shots are fired in the handover all hell breaks loose and a heart stopping game of survival ensues. Moving from tense caper to explosive action, Ben Wheatley marries tight choreography with a witty script (co-written with his wife and regular editor Amy Jump). Inspired by films like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and demonstrating Wheatley’s increasing ability to attract indie stars, Free Fire is another stunner from one of today’s most exciting directors.
The Secret Scripture

Directed by Jim Sheridan (2016, 108 mins)

Based on Sebastian Barry’s acclaimed novel, Jim Sheridan’s first film set primarily in Ireland since The Boxer (1997) explores the life and history of Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave), a woman confined to the Roscommon Mental Hospital for 50 years. As the institution is about to close, Dr. Grene (Eric Bana) is sent to see whether she’s fit to be released. He’s intrigued by Roseanne’s eccentricities and her fierce attachment to her Bible, in which she’s been keeping a diary since she was first admitted. As he delves into her past, Dr. Grene gets to know the younger Roseanne (played by Rooney Mara) and eventually learns the terrible truth about her confinement. Shot in the west of Ireland, The Secret Scripture mines  a familiar seam in depicting Ireland’s history.

 

The Salesman

Directed by Asghar Farhadi (2016, 125 mins, an Iran-France co-production, in Farsi with English subtitles)

After making his previous film (The Past) in France, Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationAbout Elly) returns to his native Tehran for this story about a couple forced out of their apartment due to dangerous works on a neighbour’s building. Emad and Rana move into a new flat in the centre of Tehran, where an incident linked to the previous tenant will dramatically change the young couple’s life. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman plays an unexpected part in proceedings, as the nature of honour and violence are explored in typically metaphorical Iranian style.

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I Am Not Your Negro

Directed by Raoul Peck (2016, 95 mins)

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and with unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work,  Raoul Peck has completed the cinematic version of the book Baldwin never wrote – a radical narration about race in America that tracks the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Whilst partly anchored in the struggle for equality in the ’50s and ’60s, I Am Not Your Negro sees Peck extrapolate from Baldwin’s actual work to make his own statements about what it means to be black in America today.

 

Personal Shopper

Directed by Olivier Assayas (2016, 110 mins)

Maureen is the personal shopper for a German model/designer who demands an endless supply of clothes be procured and delivered to her. But Maureen has just suffered a personal trauma: her beloved twin brother, Lewis, to whom she was intensely attached, has just died. She is also a medium, and attempts to communicate with Lewis while wandering around their cavernous childhood home in Paris, where he died. Gradually, mysterious things begin to occur. On paper that may not sound like much, but this is the second pairing of actress Kristen Stewart and writer/director Olivier Assayas after Clouds of Sils Maria.

 

Headshot

Directed by Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto (2016, 117 mins, in Indonesian with English subtitles)

When an unknown Indonesian film called The Raid premiered at JDIFF 2011 the Savoy was thunderous in welcoming the furious flying fists and lightning-fast feet of star Iko Uwais. Uwais is the hero of Headshot. A young man washes ashore, an amnesiac with a serious head injury. After being nursed back to health by a young doctor, violence ensues as Ishmael takes on the henchmen of a vengeful drug lord while piecing together his past as a remorseless killing machine. Directors Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel — a.k.a. The Mo Brothers — keep the action coming as Ishmael kicks, punches, ducks, and flips his way through the Indonesian underworld.

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Seymour: An Introduction

Directed by Ethan Hawke (2014, 81 mins)

“How should we live?” A question long asked by philosophers is one which Seymour Bernstein has been cultivating an answer to over 50 years of playing piano. Bernstein chose to forego a promising career as a concert pianist in order to teach, thus revealing his profound world-view, a breathtakingly clear-headed perspective on art and its essential value. Ethan Hawke, one of his greatest admirers, takes us into Bernstein’s world with this delicately crafted film offering a wise and charismatic reflection on art and life, and even punning on JD Salinger for its title.

 

In the Blood

Directed by Rasmus Heisterberg (2016, 104 mins, in Danish with English subtitles)
Summer in Copenhagen; a time of endless days and carefree nights. Simon goes to medical school with his best friend Knud. They party, drink and chase girls and wake up the next day only to do it all over again. But it is also a time of change amongst their group of friends. Whilst the others gravitate toward the safe haven of adulthood, Simon is not ready to let go of his airy adolescent life.
Alone in Berlin

Directed by Vincent Perez (2016, 103 mins)

Berlin, June 1940. While Nazi propaganda celebrates victory over France, Anna and Otto are grieving their son, who has been killed at the front. They had long believed in the ‘Führer’, but now they realise his promises are nothing but lies. They begin writing anti-Nazi postcards as a form of resistance. Putting their lives at risk, the couple played by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson distribute these cards all over Berlin. But soon, as with Sophie Scholl, the authorities are onto them.

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The Rehearsal

Directed by Alison Maclean (2016, 102 mins)

Stanley, a naive first year drama student meets Isolde and begins a sweet, first love affair. Goaded by Hannah, Kerry Fox’s charismatic, domineering Head of Acting, Stanley uncovers a talent and ambition he didn’t know he had. When his group hits on a sex scandal that involves Isolde’s tennis prodigy sister as fertile material for their end-of-year show, Stanley finds himself profoundly torn.

 

Mindhorn

Directed by Sean Foley (2016, 89 mins)

When MI5 Special Operative Bruce Mindhorn was captured in the late 1980s, his eye was replaced by a super-advanced optical lie detector, which meant he could literally “see the truth.” He escaped and fled to the Isle of Man, to recuperate in the island’s temperate micro-climate, and today has become the best plain-clothes detective the island has ever seen. This cheeky and hilarious send up of television detective shows stars Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh and is directed by theatre wunderkind Sean Foley.

 

A Quiet Passion

Directed by Terence Davies (2016, 125 mins)

A Quiet Passion is Terence Davies’ new biopic of Emily Dickinson; her loves, her struggles, and her magnificent poetry. Shot in Belgium and Massachusetts, A Quiet Passion paints a sympathetic but far from idealistic portrait of one of 19th Century America’s greatest poets. Featuring a finely curated selection of her work read in voice-over by star Jennifer Ehle, this luminous biopic will appeal to existing Dickinson fans and perhaps create new ones at the same time.

Wolf Alice singer, Ellie Rowsell, live on stage at the Junction in Cambridge on 10 April 2015. Last date of the tour.

David Lynch – The Art Life

Directed by Jon Nguyen (2016, 93 mins)

David Lynch was once memorably described by his producer Mel Brooks as Jimmy Stewart fro Mars. Lynch takes us on an intimate journey through his idyllic upbringing in small town America to the dark streets of Philadelphia, to trace the events that shaped the career of one of cinema’s most distinctive directors. This portrait  gives audiences a better understanding of the man and the artist just as he prepares to welcome back the world to his greatest triumph Twin Peaks.

 

On the Road

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (2016, 121 mins)

Don’t worry, it’s not another sally at the unfilmable Kerouac classic. Michael Winterbottom joins London 90s throwback band Wolf Alice on the road, capturing 16 different gigs and daily life backstage. The resulting film documents the tour from the point of view of a new crew member and reveals the relentless, sometimes unglamorous side of playing live, night after night. But it also mesmerises, capturing the nuanced musicality of the full band, and the charisma of frontwoman Ellie Rowsell.

 

Berlin Syndrome

Directed by Cate Shortland (2017, 116 mins)

Holidaying in Berlin, Teresa Palmer’s Australian photojournalist Clare meets the charismatic Andi. There is an instant mutual attraction, and a night of passion ensues. But what initially appears to be the start of a romance suddenly takes an unexpected and sinister turn when Clare wakes the following morning to discover Andi has left for work and locked her in his apartment. An easy mistake to make, of course, except Andi has no intention of letting her go again in the latest German-set effort from Australian director Cate Shortland following Lore.

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Hounds of Love

Directed by Ben Young (2016, 108 mins)

Set in Perth in 1987 and inspired by real crimes, this feature debut from director Ben Young takes place in the aftermath of a murderous couple’s abduction of a teenager on a steamy summer evening. Though she’s a captive, 17 year-old Vicki Maloney isn’t powerless. Suspecting the many problems plaguing her captors, and attuned to marital issues following her own parents’ recent split, Vicki fights for her life by trying to expose the imbalances in their relationship.

 

Neruda

Directed by Pablo Larraín (2016, 108 mins, in in Spanish with English subtitles)

In Neruda Pablo Larraín (Jackie, No) weaves an engrossing meta-fictional fable around the 1948 manhunt for celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), who goes underground when Chile outlaws communism. He is pursued by an ambitious police inspector (Gael García Bernal), who is hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the famous fugitive. This period saw Neruda produce some of his most memorable work, even while he was constantly on the run.

September 1, 2015

Six Years, what a surprise

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Nonsense,Talking Television,Talking Theatre — Fergal Casey @ 10:06 pm
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Previous milestones on this blog have been marked by features on Michael Fassbender and a vainglorious, if requested, list (plays to see before you die). But as today marks exactly six years since Talking Movies kicked off in earnest on Tuesday September 1st 2009 with a review of (500) Days of Summer I’ve rummaged thru the archives for some lists covering the various aspects of the blog’s expanded cultural brief.

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Top 6 Films

There’s been a lot of films given a write-up and a star rating hereabouts. So many films. Some fell in my estimation on re-watching, others steadily increased in my esteem, and many stayed exactly as they were.

 

Here are my favourites of the films I’ve reviewed over the past six years:

 

Inception

X-Men: First Class

Shame

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Skyfall

Mud

 

And that’s a selection from this list…

Iron Man, Indiana Jones 4, Wolverine, (500) Days of Summer, Creation, Pandorum, Love Happens, The Goods, Fantastic Mr Fox, Jennifer’s Body, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Bright Star, Glorious 39, The Box, Youth in Revolt, A Single Man, Whip It!, The Bad Lieutenant, Eclipse, Inception, The Runaways, The Hole 3-D, Buried, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Let Me In, The Way Back, Never Let Me Go, Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3-D, Win Win, X-Men: First Class, The Beaver, A Better Life, Project Nim, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, The Art of Getting By, Troll Hunter, Drive, Demons Never Die, The Ides of March, In Time, Justice, Breaking Dawn: Part I, The Big Year, Shame, The Darkest Hour 3-D, The Descendants, Man on a Ledge, Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Dangerous Method, The Woman in Black, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3-D, Margaret, This Means War, Stella Days, Act of Valour, The Hunger Games, Titanic 3-D, The Cabin in the Woods, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Lockout, Albert Nobbs, Damsels in Distress, Prometheus, Red Tails, Red Lights, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 3-D, Ice Age 4, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, The Dark Knight Rises, The Expendables 2, My Brothers, The Watch, Lawless, The Sweeney, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Liberal Arts, Sinister, Hit and Run, Ruby Sparks, On the Road, Stitches, Skyfall, The Sapphires, Gambit, Seven Psychopaths, Lincoln, Men at Lunch – Lon sa Speir, Warm Bodies, A Good Day to Die Hard, Safe Haven, Arbitrage, Stoker, Robot and Frank, Parker, Side Effects, Iron Man 3, 21 and Over, Dead Man Down, Mud, The Moth Diaries, Populaire, Behind the Candelabra, Man of Steel 3-D, The East, The Internship, The Frozen Ground, The Wolverine, The Heat, RED 2, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Diana, Blue Jasmine, How I Live Now, Thanks for Sharing, Escape Plan, Like Father, Like Son, Ender’s Game, Philomena, The Counsellor, Catching Fire, Black Nativity, Delivery Man, 12 Years a Slave, Devil’s Due, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mr Peabody & Sherman 3-D, Dallas Buyers Club, The Monuments Men, Bastards, The Stag, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Calvary, Magic Magic, Tracks, Hill Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past 3-D, Benny & Jolene, The Fault in Our Stars, 3 Days to Kill, Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3-D, SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, God’s Pocket, Hector and the Search for Happiness, The Expendables 3, What If, Sin City 2, Let’s Be Cops, The Guest, A Most Wanted Man, Wish I Was Here, Noble, Maps to the Stars, Life After Beth, Gone Girl, Northern Soul, The Babadook, Interstellar, The Drop, Mockingjay – Part I, Electricity, Birdman, Taken 3, Wild, Testament of Youth, A Most Violent Year, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Son of a Gun, Patrick’s Day, Selma, It Follows, Paper Souls, Home 3-D, While We’re Young, John Wick, A Little Chaos, The Good Lie, Let Us Prey, The Legend of Barney Thomson, Hitman: Agent 47.

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Top 6 Film Features

There’s been a lot of film features, from me obsessing over ignored inflation at the box-office and omnipresent CGI on the screen to the twaddle of Oscar ceremonies and thoroughly bogus critical narratives of New Hollywood.

 

Here are my favourite film features from the last six years:

 

A Proof – Keanu Can Act

Snyder’s Sensibility

What the Hell is … Method Acting?

Terrence Malick’s Upas Tree

5 Reasons to love Tom at the Farm

A Million Ways to Screw up a Western

 

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Top 6 TV Features

There’s been quite a bit of musing about TV here, usually in short-form howls about The Blacklist or other such popcorn irritants, but sometimes in longer format, like two disquisitions on Laurence Fishburne’s stint in CSI.

 

Here are my favourite TV features from the last six years:

 

TARDIS: Time And Relative Dimensions In Smartness

Double Exposure: Cutter’s Way/House M.D.

Medium’s Realism    

2ThirteenB Baker Street, Princeton

Funny Bones

An Arrow of a different colour

 

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Top 6 Plays

Since I decided to start reviewing plays in summer 2010 there’s been a steady stream of reviews from the Dublin Theatre Festival and regular productions at the Gate, the Abbey, the Olympia, the Gaiety, and Smock Alley.

 

Here are my favourites of the plays I’ve reviewed over the last six years:

 

John Gabriel Borkman

The Silver Tassie

Pygmalion

Juno and the Paycock

The Select: The Sun Also Rises

A Whistle in the Dark

 

And that’s a selection from this list:

Death of a Salesman, Arcadia, Phaedra, John Gabriel Borkman, Enron, The Silver Tassie, The Field, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Attempts on Her Life, Pygmalion, Translations, Hay Fever, Juno and the Paycock, Peer Gynt, Slattery’s Sago Saga, Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer, Big Maggie, Hamlet, Improbable Frequency, Alice in Funderland, Glengarry Glen Ross, Travesties, The House, The Plough and the Stars, The Lark, Dubliners, The Select: The Sun Also Rises, A Whistle in the Dark, Conversations on a Homecoming, The Talk of the Town, King Lear, Major Barbara, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The Critic, Desire Under the Elms, Neutral Hero, Macbeth, A Skull in Connemara, The Vortex, An Ideal Husband, Twelfth Night, Aristocrats, Ballyturk, Heartbreak House, The Actor’s Lament, Our Few and Evil Days, Bailegangaire, Spinning, She Stoops to Conquer, The Walworth Farce, The Caretaker, The Man in Two Pieces, Hedda Gabler, The Gigli Concert, A Month in the Country, The Shadow of a Gunman, The Importance of Being Earnest, Bob & Judy, By the Bog of Cats.

 

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Top 6 Colour Pieces

It must be admitted that I’ve written fewer colour pieces for the blog than I would have liked, but I’ve greatly enjoyed the occasional adventures of Hollywood insider Micawber-Mycroft; a homage to PG Wodehouse’s Mr Mulliner.

 

Here are my favourite colour pieces from the last six years:

 

How to Watch 300

Mark Pellegrino gets ambitious

Great Production Disasters of Our Time: Apocalypse Now

Micawber-Mycroft explains nervous action directing

Alfred & Bane: Brothers in Arms

Kristen Bell, Book and Candle

 

Six years, my brain hurts a lot…

December 4, 2012

A Whistle in the Dark

Druid stunned the brutalised Gaiety audience into silence at the Dublin Theatre Festival with Tom Murphy’s coruscating 1961 debut. Depicting violent Irish immigrants in Coventry trapped in self-mythologies of violence’s utility and “learning”’s futility it still packs an emotional sucker-punch.

A Whistle In the Dark

Michael (Marty Rea) is married to a Coventry girl and living there, but in a tense situation. His house is being shared with three of his brothers. The brutishly violent and ignorant Hubert (Garrett Lombard) and Ignatius (Rory Nolan) are intimidating presences but Michael’s wife Betty (Eileen Walsh) is rightly most frightened of Harry (Aaron Monaghan), the street-smart brother who is running a prostitution ring. But there’re more Carneys yet…

A Whistle in the Dark was infamously rejected by the Abbey because Ernest Blythe said no such people existed in Ireland, yet the novels of John McGahern attest to the baneful reality of monsters like Michael Senior (Niall Buggy), who arrives to visit with the youngest son Des (Gavin Drea). The battle of wills to mould Des’ future is an incredibly tense and bleak affair essentially pitting barbarity against civilisation.

Nolan and Lombard are terrifying as primitive thugs, in their second outing as brothers after 2010’s Death of A Salesman, but while the ensemble was uniformly flawless Buggy’s self-pitying and savage turn as the patriarch must be singled out as being truly remarkable, while Rea was agonisingly sympathetic as the good man inexorably being dragged down to his father’s level. Garry Hynes’ direction rendered a realistic set a febrile battleground.

Graham Price and I couldn’t help but note how indebted Pinter’s The Homecoming is to Murphy’s primal scream of familial power plays, but while both have the resonance of Greek myth this is not black comedy but darkest tragedy.

5/5

April 26, 2011

Revue: Attempts on Her Life: Review

A postmodern play is what we mean when we point at something and say, ‘This is what we mean by a postmodern play’…

A review of a play should be impartial and objective. It’s never a good idea to review a play when you know people acting in it. Having said which I’ve already done so to an extent when reviewing Death of A Salesman last summer. But of course I never knew Rory Nolan half as well back in 2001 when he was my Dramsoc committee liaison as I do some of the people in this play. Can we get around this? Perhaps..

SCENE 7. ARGUMENTS.

BORIS, GODUNOV, and JOHNSON are onstage. They can be any age and either sex. They are panellists on a TV show, or maybe politicians at a debate, you decide.

BORIS: It’s weird beyond belief. I approve.

GODUNOV: But is it good-weird or bad-weird?

BORIS: Can one apply such banal terms to post-modern theatre? It exists, it breathes; one cannot pigeonhole it into such bourgeois categories as good or bad.

JOHNSON: But surely a play has to achieve something other than simply being?

BORIS: You would like a tidy linear plot and developed characters progressing along a satisfying and predictable emotional arc, would you? Anything else we can do for you while we’re rolling back theatrical history? Bring back the Lord Chamberlain? Maybe we could ban women from acting again…

GODUNOV: I think that what Johnson meant was that a post-modern play whose sole content is reiterations of how impeccably post-modernist it is becomes as self-defeating as a woman Irish poet whose sole subject for poetry is the trials of being a woman Irish poet, to the point where you must ask if it’s such a chore trying to fit into the patriarchal tradition of Yeats why not just chuck it for something more congenial like novel-writing. Seems to work out nicely for Emma Donoghue…

BORIS: There you go again. You have an obsession with every work of art being pre-digested for your facile consumption, rather than struggling against patriarchy.

JOHNSON: I fear Boris that we are getting away from the play.

BORIS: Yes. We are. I thought a triumphant scene was the superbly combative Aisling Flynn talking down Ian Toner in the panel discussion tentatively chaired by Sam McGovern.

GODUNOV: Yes, he did catch rather well the host awkwardly caught between both trying to start fights and defuse excess tension at the same time.

BORIS: Shut up, Godunov. Yes, it was a pitch-perfect parody of the sort of spats over modern art once catches on Newsnight Review of a Friday. I also admired the deranged quality of Fiachra MacNamara’s monologue while blindfolded and being whipped by a girl wearing a pig-mask and shouting thru a microphone.

JOHNSON: The blunt satire of the second scene with the children’s entertainment turning into a discussion of atrocities bothered me by its tremendous lack of subtlety. Does one need really need to jackhammer at obvious truths like that? But I must ask you one question Boris. Did it not bother you that for large chunks of the play you had absolutely no idea what was going on? I’m thinking of that amusing but baffling Pinter homage where Toner and McGovern seemed to be either ad-men or hit-men, writing a personal ad or an obituary, with a mysterious suitcase bothering their efforts.

BORIS: I understood everything that happened.

GODUNOV: I beg to differ. You turned to me during the scene with the six actresses doing the satirical car adverts in different languages to ask in a terrified whisper if that man was meant to be on stage or had he just wandered in off the street?

BORIS: I was merely adding to your confusion to amplify the intended artistic effect…

JOHNSON: The scene deconstructing pornography I thought was another highlight.

BORIS: It appealed to your low taste for moralism in art did it?

GODUNOV: Why must you constantly sneer at any attempts to find meaning in life?

BORIS: Because one cannot find meaning in life! Crimp’s entire gestalt is that no play can represent accurately even one person, so how on earth could a play seek not only to create multiple ‘realistic’ characters but then have the audacity to claim that they represent the universe in some sort of microcosm, and that the play can thus make ‘important’ points about society? The only point it can make is the inadequacy of its ability to make points.

JOHNSON: You ascribe a Beckettian impulse to Crimp then, the compulsion to speak, mixed with the awareness of the inability to say anything worth speaking of?

BORIS: Don’t bring your philosophical poppycock into this, Crimp is operating on a purely aesthetic level. I have no idea what I mean by that. Or do I? …

GODUNOV: Are you attempting to say that we must not look for any deeper meaning? That Attempts on Her Life represents merely post-modern theatre’s abdication of the urge to create versions of reality in favour of merely stringing together disparate scenes containing blunt anti-capitalist satire? Didn’t 9/11 make that sort of posturing an embarrassment? If western civilisation is not inviolable what is the point of deconstructing it?

BORIS: Well, one could say the same about resisting the Nazis after the tide turned in Africa or in Russia. The battle against patriarchal structures is never futile. Vive La Resistance. You will notice the ‘La’…

JOHNSON: I think Boris that you have lost your mind.

BORIS: I’m in the good company of Nietzsche in that case.

GODUNOV: And I keenly resent the implication that I am a Nazi.

It’s hard not to feel that Enron shows the influence of Attempts on Her Life while simultaneously abjuring it. They’re both Royal Court productions but separated by a traumatic decade. There are a number of inexplicable musical numbers in both plays although neither is a musical, in both actors double up and a huge cast run thru many different cipher characters, and multi-media is also a commonality with large screens bombarding the audience with subliminally fast images of modern life; but the differences are huge. The blunt satire of capitalism remains, but the generalised anxiety of Martin Crimp is replaced by a sharp focus on the fall of one company by Lucy Prebble, who also develops four stable characters amid the slapstick in order to give us an emotional anchor, and has a solid plot in the downfall of Enron’s insane accounting system to drive things forward in a semi-linear fashion. In other words Attempts on Her Life is an important play but it’s not a trailblazer, nothing can follow it, other writers can only plunder from it what they like best and incorporate it into their own more traditional work – after all if one actually wants to say something about society it’s not really that satisfying only having a dramatic framework that deconstructs the validity of any and all attempts to say anything about society.

3/5

June 10, 2011

On Fassbendering

“To Fassbender: To very obviously derive too much enjoyment from one’s work”. That’s the Urban Dictionary definition at any rate. But, like the residents of Madison Avenue advertising firms in the 1960s being termed Mad Men, I defined it myself…

So, where on earth did I get the concept of Fassbendering from? Well, I first really noticed Michael Fassbender when he played Azazeal in Hex, and my reaction to the show was pretty much “meh, pale Buffy rip-off, but serious kudos to that guy who’s really enjoying himself far too much as the Big Bad”. Later on I realised that he was the actor from Guinness ad who dived off the Cliffs of Moher and swam to New York to say “Sorry” to his brother for hitting on the brother’s girlfriend. The fact that Fassbender had ended that ad by grinning and appearing to hit on the brother’s girlfriend again, suggested a trend – this was a guy who just couldn’t stop grinning mischievously because he was always enjoying himself far too much. Fassbender fell off my radar for a while so I only belatedly noticed that he grinned with some malevolence in Rupert Everett’s BBC TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, as he got to be both an impeccably impassive servant and a sadistic serial killer; who, several years before Heath Ledger’s Joker, took a distinct pleasure in being tortured by Holmes. I also later caught up with ITV’s Poirot and discovered that Fassbender had smoked, drank, drawled and grinned his way thru After the Funeral.

But his ridiculous role as Stelios in Zack Snyder’s bombastic 300 was where I really started to take this nonsense seriously, if you will. I have found among my circle that whoever watched 300 as a serious action drama thought it was unbearably bad, but whoever watched it thru the absurd prism of Fassbender (on my prompting) thought it was a deliriously great black comedy. Watching the film with Fassbender as your focus you realise just how much fun he’s obviously having. As the film opens with the 300 marching off to battle Fassbender is already grinning… Later he jumps in slow motion to chop off the arm of the Persian who threatens the Spartans with a thousand nation army, “Well then, we shall fight in the shade”, with the air of a man once again enjoying himself far too much. Fassbender gets to be half of a Spartan Legolas/Gimili style partnership in mayhem and, in his definitive moment of gleefulness, when the Persian mystics are throwing bombs Fassbender runs out, catches one and throws it back, then shelters behind his shield as the arsenal of bombs explodes. In the darkness lit only by bomb blasts we can’t see Fassbender’s face underneath his helmet until we see his teeth, as he grins. Fassbender does something awesome in the denouement to allow Leonidas to do something even more awesome, before holding hands with Leonidas for their butch last lines; where even dying becomes a blast…

But, daft as it sounds, it was Fassbender’s subsequent role in Hunger that led me to go online and define Fassbendering, because, when announcing the casting news from Cannes the Irish Times, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to accompany the story that Fassbender was taking on this big serious role in what one would expect to be a grim sombre film, with a photo of Fassbender cracking up on set – as if there was nothing on this planet, not decency, not logic, that could prevent Fassbender from enjoying himself too much… And indeed Hunger did provide one moment which I deemed Fassbendering above and beyond the call of duty. In the midst of a serious performance in a serious film he still managed to sneak in a scene where, after being beaten up and then dropped naked and bloodied on the floor of his cell, his Bobby Sands rolls over, blood streaming from his mouth, and slowly grins at the camera… On retrospect this is obviously the moment where Sands realises he can defeat his captors by doing this to himself by going on hunger strike, but would anyone but Fassbender dare to do communicate this by a grin, that also serves to indicate that he knows he is doing a great job with this role and still can’t quite believe his luck.

Fassbender had a straight man role in Inglourious Basterds opposite Mike Myers’ absurdist British officer, and then in one of the tensest sequences in the film, but I argue that he was able to play things straight because he didn’t need to Fassbender, he’d already infected the entire ensemble. Christoph Waltz’s ecstatic glee at his role is pure Fassbendering, especially his appreciation of the musical qualities of Italian names and Diane Kruger’s explanation of her leg injury, during which he has to go off to one side to laugh himself sick. The trailer for Jonah Hex left me in tears of laughter as Fassbender’s first appearance as henchman Burke saw him grinning manically while dressed as a droog and setting fire to a barn with someone trapped in it. You can only hope that one day Fassbender gets to truly cut loose with the madmen/auteurs behind the Crank films.

So what is Fassbendering? I used 300 for the definition because it’s the supreme example of a man just obviously enjoying himself far too much for something that’s meant to be paid work, hence my quip – “On being handed the cheque he probably said ‘No, really I couldn’t. It’s just been such a blast. Can I keep the cape?” Now, Fassbendering is not unique to Fassbender, but only in one sense as I will argue in a minute. I would argue that the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be audibly heard Fassbendering their way thru BloodSugarSexMagik because when you listen to it you feel that they would do this for free, they are so obviously deriving too much enjoyment from their paid work. But Fassbendering always has a positive undertone, what is enjoyable for the performer is enjoyable for the audience too, unlike fiascos like Ocean’s 12 where a group of actors obviously having a ball does not translate into the warm hug of the audience that the same actors having a ball provides in Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 13. Fassbendering therefore is high praise when I use it for another actor, as I have occasionally done (Iron Man, Speed Racer, The Importance of Being Lady Bracknell, Death of A Salesman, 7 Reasons to Love Scott Pilgrim, The Field, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Pygmalion, X-Men: First Class).

The part of Erik Lensherr is dark and vengeful, but there is some Fassbendering. The most obvious moments come in the recruitment and training montages where Erik suddenly reveals a hitherto unsuspected sardonic side. These are where any actor would grin widely at how much fun they’re having, even if Fassbender grins wider than most. The true moment that defines Fassbendering as something that only Michael Fassbender truly personifies comes in the extremely tense sequence in the Argentinian German Bar. Fassbender smiling widely drops loaded hints to the ex-Nazis, “They had no name. It was taken from them, by pig-farmers, and tailors”, his smile confusing the hell out of them, even as he slowly drains his drink, still looking affable, but perhaps to be feared. Fassbender is obviously enjoying himself far too much in this scene, but what’s more, to paraphrase Werner Herzog, he’s conveying an inner thought process of his character that other actors would not attempt – Erik really is obviously enjoying this Nazi-hunting business far too much…

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