Talking Movies

April 21, 2017

Handsome Devil

Writer/director John Butler follows The Stag with a film that is somehow much better put together yet actually more infuriating.

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) complains volubly to his father and stepmother (Ardal O’Hanlon, Amy Huberman) about being sent back to boarding school. They don’t care. He complains volubly to his principal (Michael McElhatton) about being forced to share his room with a rugby player Conor (Nicholas Galitzine). He doesn’t care. He then complains volubly to the audience about the importance given to rugby in this school; which is apparently meant to be Blackrock, but somehow seems more like Clongowes; and how awful it is to be a gay student in a heteronormative school. Little does he know that his new roommate has a secret, a big one, that by the end of term will change the school forever.

There is a reference to the Berlin Wall as if it’s still standing, and our hero plagiarises The Undertones, so it’s the 1980s, right? Except for the prominently featured poster of the cover of Suede’s debut album, from 1993. But that doesn’t really matter, right? I mean, it’s not like that year has any special significance. It’s only when Ireland decriminalised homosexuality, so it probably doesn’t impinge on the seriousness of Andrew Scott’s teacher being outed to the principal. It is unfortunate for such slapdash writing to reach Irish cinemas mere months after the innovative and spot-on recreation of period detail in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, which was actually concerned with replicating the felt experience of life in 1979 California.

2/5

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March 6, 2014

The Stag

Sherlock star Andrew Scott returns home to play the hapless best man forced to organise a last-minute stag party which quickly descends into embarrassing chaos.

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Trinity lecturer and enthusiastic hill-walker Davin (Scott) is best man for dweebish stage-designer Fionan (Hugh O’Conor), who is marrying Davin’s ex-girlfriend Ruth (Amy Huberman). Fionan doesn’t particularly want to have a stag party, but Ruth instructs Davin that he must organise one, after Fionan unnervingly expresses interest in attending her hen party. And so Davin rounds up depressed businessman Simon (Brian Gleeson), Fionan’s gay younger brother Kevin (Michael Legge), and Kevin’s drug-addled boyfriend Kevin (Andrew Bennett), for an arduous mountaineering weekend – the one thing, alongside carefully screened phone calls, guaranteed to ensure the absence of Ruth’s deranged brother The Machine (Peter McDonald). Or so they think… The Machine arrives and instantly sets about destroying any veneer of respectability with crude and cruel nicknames and putdowns, wanton property destruction, vandalism of heritage sites, involuntary electrocution, and simply endless drug-fuelled public nudity.

I loathed Scott’s Moriarty in Sherlock, so when I say the stars this film receives are purely for his performance, that’s something. Davin was fatally wounded by Ruth’s rejection, and having to smile thru her wedding is a cruel twist of the knife. Arguing with Fionan (purportedly about The Sopranos) on how Fionan always takes ownership of things Davin liked first has a subtext obvious to anyone but the characters, and Scott’s later rendition of ‘Raglan Road’ has a stunning emotional charge. But I’m praising a serious arc in an intended raucous comedy because The Stag is both juvenile and unfunny. McDonald co-wrote his ‘hilarious’ role, which the brothers McDonagh might have rendered funny, but which here flails about desperately as McDonald’s accent hits Ireland, England, America and New Zealand – questing for the most bombastically macho line-reading of every line.

Co-writer and director John Butler has a resume of sketch comedy and short films. His feature debut ticks all the clichés of predictable pay-offs and tidy arcs, even appropriating Little Miss Sunshine’s feel-good subversive ending to allow The Machine ‘solve’ the recession. There are no genuinely funny sequences, but many painfully extended ones – to wit, the nudity. The Stag is littered with snide gay jokes, but because Fionan’s father (John Kavanagh) is surprisingly condemned by The Machine for homophobia, that’s okay, right? Well, no, because Kavanagh would also be unlikely to approve if his son brought home a drug-using woman twice his age… Such inconsistencies make you wonder: can one write an asinine script, then inject structural trickery to achieve a closing group rainbow hug, and so, implausibly, secure Film Board funding by dint of one’s impeccable political zeitgeist surfing?

The Stag tragically wastes a cadre of talented Irish actors who are left mugging like Amy Huberman while the audience remembers having been on funnier stags than this one.

1.5/5

December 1, 2013

Subtitle European Film Festival Awards

The Subtitle European Film Festival drew to a close tonight in Kilkenny with the second Angela Awards, celebrating excellence in European film-making.SUBTITLE_2013_1.0_COLOUR

Actors honoured at the awards included Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie (known for his role in the crossover hit Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters), Finnish actor Peter Franzén (who will shortly be seen on screens starring alongside Sean Penn in The Gunman), Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky (star of the forthcoming Vampire Academy alongside Gabriel Byrne) and Danish actor Pilou Asbaek (star of TV hit Borgen). The Awards were hosted by actress and author Pauline McLynn in The Set Theatre, Kilkenny, with a host of luminaries including director Jim Sheridan, writer David Caffrey, Harry Potter producer Tanya Seghatchian, and actors Robert Sheehan, Amy Huberman, Laurence Kinlan, Sean McGinley, Tom Hickey, Peter O’Meara, Aisling Franciosi, Morten Suurballe (The Killing), and Allan Hyde (True Blood) all in attendance.

At the awards Jim Sheridan also presented Emmy Award-winning casting director Avy Kaufman with a Lifetime Achievement Angela. Kaufman was the casting diector for films as diverse as The Sixth SenseThe Life of PiLincoln and Shame. She has also worked with Jim Sheridan, casting many of his films. Subtitle presents popular films from European countries such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bosnia. With 70 screenings of 36 popular films from over 13 countries across Europe over 7 days in Kilkenny, Subtitle makes you see cinema in a different way.

Full List of Angela Winners:

 

Pilou Asbaek, Denmark, Actor

For his role in: A Hijacking

 

Agnieszka Grochowska, Poland, Actor

For her role in: Walesa

 

Aksel Hennie, Norway, Actor

For his role in: Ninety Minutes

 

Peter Franzén, Finland, Actor

For his role in: Heart Of A Lion

 

Danila Kozlovsky, Russia, Actor

For his role in: Soulless

 

Antonio De La Torre, Spain, Actor

For his role in: Grupo 7

 

Marija Pikic, Serbia, Actor

For her role in: Children Of Sarajevo

 

Jakub Gierszał, Poland, Actor

For his role in: Suicide Room

 

Laura Birn, Finland, Actor

For her role in: Purge

 

Hannah Hoekstra, Netherlands, Actor

For her role in: Hemel

 

Jessica Grobowsky, Finland, Actor

For her role in: 8-Ball

 

Marwan Kanzari, Netherlands, Actor

Breakthrough: Wolf

 

Per-Erik Eriksen, Norway, Editor

Editing: Kon-Tiki

 

Avy Kaufman, US, Casting Director  

Lifetime Achievement: Casting

March 9, 2012

Stella Days

Martin Sheen plays a parish priest in 1950s Ireland who defies his Bishop by opening a cinema in this tonally odd film that mixes some charm with considerable menace.

Fr Daniel Barry (Sheen) is an Irish priest who studied at Catholic University in Washington DC but has ended up in self-imposed exile in Tipperary after being passed over for promotion in the Vatican archives. 1950s Borrisokane is in the throes of rural electrification, and Stephen Rea’s morose features are put to wonderful use as prospective TD Brendan, the local head of the oddly unnamed ‘Party’, who’s delightfully mocked by Fr Barry at the beginning for offering a Dev launching RTE style equivocation on electricity perhaps being a boon. Fr Barry is in turn mocked for his learning by Bishop Hegarty (Tom Hickey) who instructs him to fundraise to construct a new Church. Barry’s decision to rebel is spurred by the arrival of new schoolteacher Tim (Trystan Gravelle) who lodges with Molly (Marcella Plunkett), whose husband is labouring in London.

Stella Days is a tonally odd film. It starts off as a charming recreation of a by-gone era in which a cinephile scholarly priest is inspired by a similarly fish out of water Dublin teacher to defy both his cinema-hating bishop and local penny-pinching worthy Brendan and convert the parish hall into a cinema rather than spending the money on building an unnecessary new church. A curiously underused Amy Huberman is on perma-smile as the local ESB cookery demonstrator explaining the new mod-cons, and there’re delightful touches like an absurdly recurring confession. But then proceedings take a sub-John McGahern turn as Molly’s son Joey (the kid from The Guard) observes without understanding the inevitable attraction between Tim and Molly, which causes local scandal courtesy of a terrifying cameo from Garrett Lombard as her absent husband – an extremely menacing 1950s teddyboy.

Sheen is on good form as a priest struggling with his own narcissism in a position he never wanted, as his mother had the vocation for him. Stella Days, like Catholics, is another Sheen film in which faith is always doubtful. Oddly for such a staunch Catholic Worker as Sheen only his role in Entertaining Angels as Dorothy Day’s mentor has really explored the power of faith. Jim Wallis, in God’s Politics, convincingly posited religious fundamentalism as primarily a reaction to fear. Bishop Hegarty is explicitly frightened to death of the world changing. This causes him, just years before TK Whitaker’s famous economic intervention, to think building churches like Cardinal Cullen a century earlier will revive the country. Brendan, another purveyor of stasis, also has complicated motives for his railings; including memorably condemning From Here to Eternity.

I have no idea who Stella Days is aimed at as it falls between two stools in its scripting, but Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s direction renders it consistently engaging fare.

3/5

October 11, 2011

A Film with me in it

A Film with me in it has finally been released on DVD, three years after its limited cinema release, so allow me to both praise it to the skies and urge you to buy it.

A Film with me in it is quite simply one of the best Irish films ever made. It’s a jet-black comedy which sees two fine stand-up comedians blunder their way thru a scenario of escalating disastrousness that could have been written by Joe Orton and which makes you laugh at really horrible things. Set in a crumbling Georgian building which has been appallingly converted into the very worst flat in Dublin it follows the misadventures of the morose Mark Doherty (estranged from his live-in girlfriend Amy Huberman and caring for his recently disabled brother David O’Doherty) and his friend Dylan Moran (a scriptwriter who hasn’t written anything but IOUs for quite some time) as they battle their shiftless landlord Keith Allen and try to cope with a series of disastrous but inescapably funny lethal accidents.

Dylan Moran’s sardonic comedy persona finds a perfect leading film role outlet in the part of heroically self-deluding alcoholic writer/director/waiter Pierce. His ramble around the word ‘alcoholic’ at an AA meeting, “My name is Pierce and I am a …. writer/director, and waiter”, is only one of many priceless moments. Moran also gives a fantastic reaction to a bloody accident, “Did, did, did you do a murder?”, devises a series of increasingly ludicrous attempts to avoid a charge of murder, “I have another plan, it involves beards and Morocco”, and powers an amazing cameo where an unexpected actor appears and has his preciousness completely exploded by dint of merciless mockery from Moran. Co-writer Mark Doherty’s blank deadpan opposite all of this mugging from Moran is Leslie Nielsen-esque in its ability to keep the nonsense grounded.

Compiling my top films of the year in 2008 for my own private film awards, as I’ve done annually since 2003, I placed A Film with me in it just outside the Top 10. But coming 11th only confirmed what an extraordinary year it had been for Irish cinema. Declan Kiberd’s Irish Classics noted that Daniel Corkery had propounded a ridiculously purist doctrine. ‘The English language, great as it is, can no more throw up an Irish Literature than it can an Indian literature’, opined Corkery who went further and put forward an influential and rigid formula Kiberd summarises thus, to qualify as Irish, “literature must treat of three themes: religion, nation, and land. Joyce had fled those nets as tyrannies, yet by treating them in his books, he did at least concede their importance”.

2008 saw Irish cinema break free of that transmogrified Corkery/Joyce need to make every film a pompous state of the nation sermon on Dev’s Ireland, the IRA or the land hunger, and/or a box-ticking journey through a number of expected clichés in order to appeal to Irish-American audience expectations, and instead just make films. The result saw entertaining, magical, demented, and insightful films (In Bruges, A Film with me in it, Hunger, Kisses) take 2 of the top 3 places and 4 of the top 12 in my awards. Now you can judge for yourself.

June 29, 2011

‘You Make the Movies’

‘You Make the Movies’ is something you’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot of soon so here’s some info on what it is.

‘You Make the Movies’ is a pro-copyright campaign organised by the Irish Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness. The who in the what, you say? Glad you asked. It was set up in 2004 to help promote copyright, and inform movie and television fans everywhere of its vital importance. Funded by more than 30 member companies, from film studios to retailers, it spreads the word about the positive role copyright plays in protecting creative ideas. This campaign is being supported by Carlton Screen Advertising, Bravo Outdoor Advertising, and Clear Channel; and, with a media value in excess of €500k, will be rolled out across outdoor, print and online platforms. The part of the campaign that will undoubtedly catch people’s eyes are trailers, directed by BBC comedy heavyweight Steve Bendelack, paying homage to famous film moments from Lord of the Rings, The Life of Brian, Sixth Sense, Jerry Maguire and Jaws. The tagline ‘You Make The Movies’ in this initiative to protect the creative rights and livelihoods of people working in the Irish film industry is an explicit acknowledgement of the vital role the public plays in supporting the industry.

Copyright issues are obviously one of the most challenging issues for the movie industry today, just as much as for the now crippled music industry. Trish Long, Disney Ireland VP says the campaign recognises “the importance of protecting creative ideas and in helping secure the livelihoods of approximately 18,000 people who work in the film industry throughout Ireland. We hope that movie lovers nationwide will enjoy the campaign and take to heart the message, of which we are absolutely convinced, which is very simply: YOU Make the Movies.” Actress Amy Huberman also throws her substantial weight behind the campaign, “Illegal downloads and piracy are killing the film industry. If you love the cinema, keep supporting the real industry and pay for the movies that you want to see. Pirated DVDs … will simply reduce the number of good films it will be possible to make and for you to see as they take money directly from the filmmakers’ pockets.” Mark Doherty of The Independent Cinema Association of Ireland, heartily agrees, “Your local cinema has been an integral part of the community in Ireland for generations… From Dublin Bay to Galway Bay, young and old, from the usher who takes your ticket to the projectionist up in the booth. Every time you buy a cinema ticket you help to keep our industry alive.”

The Irish film and gaming industry has a turnover in excess of €700 million. Tom Byrne, in charge of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Ireland, notes that DVD rentals and sales are now “a key contributor to the total revenue of a film” that directly employs over 2000 people around Ireland. Byrne importantly states, “We are greatly encouraged by the positive message of this campaign and believe that the Irish public will respond equally positively to that message and think more carefully about the consequences of purchasing illegal content.” The British campaign of a couple of years ago, featuring Daniel Craig and crew-members from Quantum of Solace, successfully reversed the tone of the previous, inescapable, incredibly aggressive and negative campaign that was so memorably and justly destroyed by The IT Crowd. If Brendan Gleeson’s ever to get his film of At Swim-Two Birds with Hollywood’s Irish stars off the ground this campaign needs a similar achievement…

For more click www.youmakethemovies.ie.

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