Talking Movies

January 15, 2016

RIP Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman wasn’t just a movie villain, (nor even that) he was a stage star. The Guardian in taking stock of Rickman’s career noted six theatrical highlights; one of those was here at the Abbey.

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Rickman left graphic design to enter RADA at the late age of 26, and then became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1986 he had a success de scandale as Valmont, the mordant seducer in Christopher Hampton’s play Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He was nominated for a Tony for the part, but when Hollywood rushed to make two versions of the story he was cast in neither. Instead he made his screen debut as Hans Gruber, the mordant terrorist in John McTiernan’s film Die Hard. Rickman was drily withering at the L&H in UCD in 2009 (when being presented with the James Joyce Fellowship) on the topic of why he always played villains. He didn’t always play villains, of course. People just didn’t see those films, nor did they see his stage work on the West End and Broadway.

He reunited with Les Liaisons Dangereuses co-star Lindsay Duncan and director Howard Davies in 2002 for Noel Coward’s Private Lives, which, like Les Liaisons Dangereuses, also transferred to Broadway after its initial West End triumph. He controversially played opposite Helen Mirren as Shakespeare’s doomed lovers Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre, showed his political activism in directing My Name is Rachel Corrie, which he helped compile from the emails of the student protestor killed by a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip, and conquered Broadway  in 2011 as an unfeasibly abrasive creative writing professor in the premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar. And in 2010 he played the titular John Gabriel Borkman, in Frank McGuinness’ version of Ibsen for the 2010 Dublin Theatre Festival, which again reunited Rickman with Lindsay Duncan, and toured onwards to London’s National Theatre and New York.

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Ibsen’s 1896 play about a disgraced banker resonated unsettlingly in post-crash Ireland. In a bleak drawing-room Gunhild (Fiona Shaw) battled her twin sister Ella (Lindsay Duncan) for the affections of Gunhild’s son Erhart (Marty Rea) and for Borkman himself in a, for the most part, three-hander between Rickman, Duncan and Shaw – an impressively powerful triptych. Rickman was wonderful, drawing comedy from lines which were funny only because of his sonorous voice, “Remain seated”, as well as intrinsically hilarious material, such as “I loved you more than life itself. But when it comes down to it one woman can be replaced with another”, and his villainous outburst “Has my hour come round at last?!” Rickman had the charisma to make his obnoxious banker heroic as he outlined his schemes for shipping and mining that would have made Norway rich; only he had the vision necessary, but within 8 days of completing his plans his lawyer exposed the fraud. Borkman convinced himself he was as much a victim of the exposure of his speculative use of savers’ deposits as the thousands his actions left penniless, so proclaimed “I have wasted 8 years of my life” in mentally re-staging and winning his trial. Intriguingly Cathy Belton toured with this production as Mrs Wilton; who threatens Erhart’s role as pawn in the mind-games.

Rickman squeezed some laughs in Gambit from being comically obnoxious as vulgar multi-millionaire and ‘degenerate nudist’ Lionel Shabandar, but it was a film unworthy of him, Colin Firth, or Stanley Tucci; all obviously attracted by a Coen Brothers screenplay that got lost in translation. But when Rickman made an unexpected return to directing nearly twenty years after his first effort, The Winter Guest, with a period drama about Versailles’ creation, he found a small showy role for Tucci as his fabulously acerbic screen brother. Rickman’s King Louis XIV was a highlight of the film; weary, cynical, yet somehow also unexpectedly humane; but he kept his role small, and gathered familiar faces around him, including Sense & Sensibility co-star Kate Winslet as Madame Sabine De Barra and John Gabriel Borkman co-star Cathy Belton as Sabine’s devoted servant Louise. Rickman seemed to like creating theatrical repertory companies outside of theatre. Consider his own casting, his reunions with Emma Thompson, and Daniel Radcliffe’s astonished gratitude that Rickman would always appear whenever Radcliffe was debuting a new stage role. So it’s fitting to end with words from a ‘rep’.

Cathy Belton issued this statement yesterday afternoon: “I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Alan’s passing today. It was a joy and a privilege to work with him but it was even more of a privilege to call him a dear friend. His talent was immense, his generosity of heart and time knew no bounds both professionally and personally. His dry Celtic wit was a joy to be around, always challenging, charming, questioning and listening. It was no wonder he felt so at home in Ireland during his many times working and visiting here. His death is such a great loss to us all, my heartfelt sympathies go to his beloved wife Rima, his rock and light at his side for over fifty years.  The world is a lesser place without him and I will miss him greatly.”

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April 15, 2015

A Little Chaos

Alan Rickman makes an unexpected return to directing nearly twenty years after his first effort, The Winter Guest, with a period drama about Versailles’ creation.

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In Versailles did King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) a stately pleasure-dome decree. And while the extravagant gardens he demands in 1682 are not quite measureless to man they are certainly too much for Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to construct single-handedly, so he takes on other landscape gardeners; the most unlikely of which is Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), a widower who insults Le Notre’s preference for ordered landscapes in her job interview. With the practical help of blunt rival Duras (Steven Waddington), and the political support of the King’s brother Philippe, Duke of Orleans (Stanley Tucci), and Phillipe’s wife Palatine (Paula Paul), Sabine sets to work. But navigating court politics is complicated by her growing attraction to the doleful Le Notre, and the spiteful reaction to her presence by the manipulative and petty Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory).

Praise first. A Little Chaos looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Ellen Kuras shoots to advantage the rococo production design of James Merifield, and art direction of Kat Law and Sarah Stuart. Joan Bergin’s costumes are sumptuous, Peter Gregson’s score has a memorable and rousing final cue, and supporting turns, from Tucci’s fabulous acerbity, to the impetuosity of Louis XIV’s mistress Madame De Montespan (Jennifer Ehle) and her lover (Rupert Penry-Jones), are delightful. It’s also nice to see Irish theatre star Cathy Belton appear as Sabine’s devoted servant Louise. But my God is it dull… Rickman co-wrote the screenplay with Alison Deegan and Jeremy Brock so he must take the blame for this. There’s a plodding well-made-screenplay feel to far too many scenes; with obnoxious flashbacks to a coach crash, and hallucinations by Sabine of her dead daughter, recalling another BBC film, Creation.

Nobody expects a discourse on the movement from classical garden design to the contrived pastoral of Capability Brown in the manner of Tom Stoppard’s intellectual investigations in Arcadia. But by the end of the film it remains utterly unclear exactly what is so radical about Sabine’s small garden with water feature in the grand scheme of Versailles. And that’s to say nothing of the script’s remarkable failure to establish that Louis XIV is the Sun King. The closing image gestures to it with some elegance, but unless you know your French history well the sharp point to Sabine’s truth-telling speech about needing a little warmth from the sun is completely lost. Schoenaerts and Winslet’s romance lacks spark, and Peaky Blinders’ McCrory is atrocious. McCrory hams like a panto villain as the script lazily instructs her to sneer from first appearance.

A Little Chaos is so perfectly respectable it’s hard to hate. Cute scenes and funny performances jostle with unmotivated villainy and terrible hamming, but who will remember either afterwards?

2/5

February 25, 2015

JDIFF 2015: 15 Films

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Booking opened for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival at 7.30pm tonight, so here are 15 films to keep an eye on at the festival.

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THE PRICE OF DESIRE (8.15pm Thu 19th Mar, Savoy)

Writer/director Mary McGuckian’s first film since The Man on the Train in 2011 opens the festival. Orla Brady stars as Irish modernist designer Eileen Gray, with Vincent Perez as legendary architect Le Corbussier. The film examines how Le Corbussier arrogantly attempted to minimise the contribution of Gray to a landmark piece of modernist architecture, the E-1027 house. Co-stars include Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe and Alanis Morrisette (!).

THE WATER DIVINER (7.30pm Fri 20th Mar, Savoy)

Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut with a WWI tale about the slaughter of the ANZAC in Turkey. Crowe’s farmer Joshua Connor travels to Gallipoli in 1919 in search of his three sons, missing in action since 1915. He is aided in this likely fool’s errand by Istanbul hotel manager Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and heroic Turkish major Yilmaz Erdogan (Once Upon A Time in Anatolia).

99 HOMES (8.30pm Fri 20th, Cineworld)

Writer/director Ramin Bahrani tackles the collapse of the sub-prime bubble in this tale of Florida real estate. Michael Shannon is a heartless real estate agent who is the Mephistopholes to the Faust of Andrew Garfield’s unemployed contractor. First he evicts Garfield, then he offers him a job, and Garfield, though conflicted accepts… Yes, Shannon gets to let rip; according to him Bahrani kept polishing his set-piece rant throughout shooting.

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BARRY LYNDON (1.30pm Sat 21st Mar, Savoy)

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Thackeray’s picaresque romp Barry Lyndon is now 40 years old. Kubrick’s obsession with using only natural light was enabled by John Alcott, Ken Adam’s production design recreated the splendour of the 18th century, and a mischievous sense of humour belied the 3 hour running time and symmetrical compositions. Star Ryan O’Neal and producer Jan Harlan will be interviewed afterwards by Frank director Lenny Abrahamson.

LISTEN UP PHILIP (6.30pm Sun 22nd Mar, Cineworld)

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry breaks through with his third film. Jason Schwartzman is an obnoxious writer splitting up with Elisabeth Moss as he simmers over the reception of his second novel. His retreat in his mentor’s country home is interrupted by the arrival of Krysten Ritter. But can he get past his ego to notice her? Bret Easton Ellis vouches for this, but remember Greenberg, exercise caution.

THE CROWD (8.15pm Sun 22nd Mar, Lighthouse)

King Vidor’s 1928 silent movie The Crowd might be one of the earliest examples of a studio deliberately losing money in order to gain prestige. A portrait of urban alienation and ennui, whose influence can be seen in Orson Welles’ disorienting presentation of a vast office space in his 1963 film The Trial, this will have live accompaniment from Stephen Horne. A rare screening not to be missed.

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THE TRIBE (6.00pm Tues 24th, Lighthouse)

Festival director Grainne Humphreys noted that Ukranian film-maker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe is being screened because it reinvents the way you think about cinema. There are no subtitles, just sign language, as a young boy is initiated into the brutal gang culture of a boarding school for the deaf thru intense, complex long takes. Grigoriy Fesenko is the innocent who falls for Yana Novikova and upsets the vicious hierarchy.

FORCE MAJEURE (8.15pm Thu 26th Mar, Cineworld)

Force Majeure is a pitch-black Swedish comedy-drama from writer/director Ruben Ostlund (Play) that has been hailed by Bret Easton Ellis as one of 2014’s finest films. If you want to see a man, specifically Johannes Kuhnke, running away from a threatened avalanche when he should be saving the day (so  his wife Lisa Loven Kongsli expects), then check out this droll study of total cowardice and family bickering.

GLASSLAND (6.30pm Fri 27th Mar, Lighthouse)

Director Gerard Barrett and star Jack Reynor, fresh from Sundance plaudits, will present Glassland. Barrett was the writer/director of Pilgrim Hill and he stays firmly within his comfort zone for another dark drama. Toni Collette’s alcoholism pushes her towards death, and her taxi-driver son Reynor into a dangerous clash with the Dublin criminal underworld of human trafficking. Barrett’s film-making has broadened in scope, but his vision remains grindingly bleak.

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PRESSURE (9.00pm Fri 27th Mar, Cineworld)

Cineworld plays host to director Ron Scalpello, writers James Warren and Alan McKenna, and, most importantly, Talking Movies favourite Danny Huston, for a screening of their suspense thriller Pressure. Huston and Matthew Goode lead a small cast in a claustrophobic thriller as oil-rig repair workers trapped in a deep-sea pod after an accident who turn on each other. Huston is always effortlessly charismatic, and this is an acting showcase.

LET US PREY (10.40pm Fri 27th Mar, Lighthouse)

Liam Cunningham gets to be even more unhinged than his drug dealer in The Guard in Brian O’Malley’s tense horror. He lets rip with gusto as a mysterious stranger known only as Six, pitted against the forces of law and order in an isolated rural police station, led by rookie cop Pollyanna McIntosh. This has been described as a supernatural Assault on Precinct 13. Bring it on!

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (1.00pm Sat 28th Mar, Cineworld)

Olivier Assayas’ autobiographical Apres Mai also screened at JDIFF, and his follow-up psychodrama Clouds of Sils Maria was recently in the news for Kristen Stewart’s supporting actress Cesar win. Juliette Binoche’s famous actress is locked in conflict with Chloe Grace Moretz. Binoche is returning to the play that made her name, but her part is now taken by Moretz. Did you say Gallic All About Eve?

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A LITTLE CHAOS (6.15pm Sat 28th Mar, Cineworld)

Alan Rickman unexpectedly returns to directing after a 17 year absence for his second feature. His sumptuously appointed period drama sees Kate Winslet’s landscape designer employed by Matthias Schoenaerts to work on the gardens of Versailles for Rickman’s exacting Louis XIV. But jealousies, both sexual and professional, dog her steps as she attempts to introduce a little anarchy into this ordered world revolving around the Sun King.

FAR FROM MEN (11.00am Sun 29th Mar, Savoy)

The difference between what Viggo Mortensen and Peter Jackson did after LOTR is enough to make you weep. Here the polyglot Viggo speaks French as a schoolteacher in colonial Algeria who develops an unusual bond with a dissident he must transport. Writer/director David Oelhoffen brilliantly transplants many Western tropes to Algeria’s war with France, but surely there are also echoes of Albert Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom?

THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON (2.00pm Sun 29th Mar, Savoy)

The Last Man On The Moon is the story of Eugene Cernan, an actual cowboy who became not just any old astronaut, but the only man to walk on the moon twice, and also the last moonwalker. Its spectacular footage, which regrettably includes CGI recreations of his spacewalks, will be on the Savoy’s biggest screen, with directors Gareth Dodds and Mark Craig interviewed afterwards.

JDIFF 2015: A Chair with Wings

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The programme for the 2015 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival promises a number of international guests, including Julie Andrews, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Crowe, Kim Cattrall, Alan Rickman, Ryan O’Neal and Danny Huston, and intriguing films from diverse countries and eras.

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The JDIFF 2015 programme was officially launched this morning by Festival Director Grainne Humphreys, who invoked The Accidental Tourist’s image of travel writing as giving the reader a chair with wings. The ‘Around the World’ programme features nearly 140 films from nearly 40 different countries across 11 days. Humphreys invoked the Festival’s mission to amplify and complement the world cinema which is available to Irish audiences, noting that 70 to 75% of the films screened at the Festival will never be screened again in Ireland. And when such one-off screening opportunities have in the past few years included such titles as the riveting Russian WWII movie White Tiger and Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust it only underscores the importance of the Festival.

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The Festival, in response to audience feedback, is expanding into new venues Movies at Dundrum, The Pavilion, and Riverbank Arts Centre, and introducing some double screenings. It is also ramping up its Picture House outreach project in hospitals and care homes, a project whose patron is Oscar-winning actress Brenda Fricker. A final new venue will be the Bord Gais Energy Theatre which will host the finale interview with Julie Andrews. That closing gala screening of The Sound of Music with Andrews, and Kenneth Branagh’s unveiling of his latest blockbuster directorial outing Cinderella, is indicative of a desire to make the Festival accessible to the most casual of cinemagoers rather than the intimidating preserve of cinephiles.

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Julie Andrews and Kenneth Branagh will both receive Voltas, and there are many other guests in attendance between the 19th and 29th of March. As previously mentioned hereabouts Russell Crowe will be presenting his directorial debut, The Water Diviner, in which his character travels to Gallipoli in 1919 to search for his soldier sons, missing since 1915’s bloody landing on the Turkish peninsula. Another actor-director, Alan Rickman, will present his new movie A Little Chaos, in which Kate Winslet attempts to introduce a little anarchy to the gardens of Versailles under the watchful eye of Rickman’s King Louis XIV. Actor-producer Kim Cattrall meanwhile will give an acting masterclass to the students of the Lir Academy, and introduce episodes of her new satirical Canadian TV series Sensitive Skin co-starring Don McKellar.

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The 40th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s period epic Barry Lyndon is marked by a screening in the Savoy with both star Ryan O’Neal and producer Jan Harlan, with Lenny Abrahamson leading a public interview afterwards, while O’Neal will also be on hand for a screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 neo-screwball comedy What’s, Up, Doc? And if all that weren’t enough to get you excited a Talking Movies favourite, the effortlessly charismatic Danny Huston, will do a Q&A after his new suspense thriller Pressure, in which he and Matthew Goode are trapped in a deep-sea station where mind-games soon jeopardise survival.

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A strong line-up of Irish features encompasses genres from horror to rom-com, biopic to gangster. The Festival will be opened by Mary McGuckian’s The Price of Desire, a beatiful and compelling depiction of Irish modernist designer Eileen Gray’s collaboration with Le Corbussier on an iconic piece of archiecture, with stars Orla Brady and Vincent Perez in attendence. Love/Hate actor Robert Sheehan will be attending a screening of his new film The Road Within, and will participate in the Actors in Conversation event, part of this year’s Screen Test programme. Gerard Barret and Jack Reynor, fresh from Sundance glory, will present Glassland, in which Toni Collette’s alcoholism pushes her son Jack Reynor into a clash with the Dublin underworld. Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham lets rip against the Gardai in Brian O’Malley’s tense Let Us Prey, a homage to John Carpenter’s ouevre, while Conor McMahon dispenses with the comedy of Stitches for straight horror in From the Dark in which a couple in a farmhouse are terrorised. Also featured in the programme are Pat Murphy’s Tana Bana, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, and Vivienne De Courcy’s colourful Dare to be Wild.

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The Out of the Past season is always a Festival highlight and this year showcases Richard Brooks’ 1967 version of In Cold Blood starring Scott Wilson and Robert Blake as the killers immortalised by Truman Capote’s investigation of their brutal crime, PJ Hogan’s 1994 Abba-loving Australian comedy Muriel’s Wedding which made a star of Toni Collette, Jean Renoir’s Partie de Campagne based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, Arthur Hiller’s The Americanisation of Emily starring Julie Andres and James Garner in a tale written by Paddy Chayefsky, and King Vidor’s silent classic of urban alienation The Crowd with live accompaniment from pianist Stephen Horne.

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The Reel To Reel documentary strand features a trio of intriguing titles. The Last Man On The Moon will see directors Mark Craig and Gareth Doods in attendence for a Savoy presentation of their account of the Eugene Cirnan, the only man to travel to the moon twice. Fellow NHL fans will be as excited as Talking Movies to see the engaging and moving Russian documentary Red Army, about the greatest ice hockey team ever assembled in the 1980s Winter Olympics and their playing careers in North America. From Germany meanwhile The Decent One unveils the private documents, journals and photographs of the SS comander Heinrich Himmler to present an intimate portrait of a family man quietly engaged in genocide.

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The bread and butter of the Festival is its eclectic selection of features. The prolific and inimitable François Ozon’s latest film is The New Girlfriend, Olivier Assayas follows up autobiographical Apres Mai with the Cesar-winning psychodrama Cloud of Sils Maria, and Wim Wenders returns with The Salt of The Earth. Actor Mads Mikkelsen takes on the Old West with some Refn-like brutality in The Salvation, director Liv Ullman takes on August Strindberg’s iconic play Miss Julie, Noah Baumbach addresses the effects of technology on individual lives more successfully than Jason Reitman with While We’re Young, Jason Schwartzman antagonises everyone as an obnoxious writer in Listen Up Philip, and another Bret Easton Ellis 2014 favourite Force Majeure makes its debut here.

The full programme will be available on the festival website jdiff.com at 7pm tonight with online booking opening at 7.30pm. Tickets can be booked at the Festival Box Ofiice on 13 Lower Ormond Quay from 26th February, or at Ticket Offices in Cineworld or the Light House from 14th March.

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