Talking Movies

January 26, 2018

My Own Personal Theatre Awards 2017

“Then the greatness of our city brings it about that all the good things from all over the world flow in to us, so that to us it seems just as natural to enjoy foreign goods as our own local products” – Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War.

Best Production

Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

The Effect (Project Arts Centre)

The Dumb Waiter (The Gate)

The Pillowman (The Gaiety)

I Hear You and Rejoice (The Pavilion)

The Man in the Woman’s Shoes (The Pavilion)

Tribes (The Gate)

 

Best New Play

The Effect by Lucy Prebble (Project Arts Centre)

I Hear You and Rejoice by Mikel Murfi (The Pavilion)

Tribes by Nina Raine (The Gate)

Autumn Royal by Kevin Barry (Project Arts Centre)

Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn (Project Arts Centre)

This isn’t my Desk by Kate Cosgrove (Smock Alley)

 

Best Director

Garry Hynes – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

Ronan Phelan – The Effect/Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Project Arts Centre)

Joe Dowling – The Dumb Waiter (The Gate)

Andrew Flynn –  The Pillowman (The Gaiety)

Geoff O’Keefe – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Catriona McLaughlin – Autumn Royal (Project Arts Centre)

Best Actor

Mikel Murfi – The Man in the Woman’s Shoes/I Hear You and Rejoice (The Pavilion)

Marty Rea – Waiting for Godot/The Great Gatsby (Druid/The Abbey & The Gate)

Aaron Monaghan – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey & The Gate)

Garrett Lombard – The Dumb Waiter (The Gate)

Lorcan Cranitch – The Dumb Waiter (The Gate)

Peter Gowen – The Pillowman (The Gaiety)

Philip Judge – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Donal Gallery – The Effect (Project Arts Centre)

 

Best Actress

Siobhan Cullen – The Effect/Crestfall (Project Arts Centre/The Abbey)

Rachel O’Byrne – The Great Gatsby (The Gate)

Clare Dunne – Tribes (The Gate)

Charlie Murphy – Arlington (Landmark/The Abbey)

Seana Kerslake – King of the Castle (Druid/The Gaiety)

Karen McCartney – Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Project Arts Centre)

Rebecca O’Mara – Private Lives (The Gate)

 

Best Supporting Actor

Mark Huberman – The Great Gatsby (The Gate)

Nick Dunning – Tribes (The Gate)

Rory Nolan – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

Marty Rea – King of the Castle (Druid/The Gaiety)

Garrett Lombard – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

Gary Lydon – The Pillowman (The Gaiety)

Conor O’Riordan – Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Project Arts Centre)

Michael David McKernan – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Gavin Drea – Tribes (The Gate)

Ronan Leahy – The Effect (Project Arts Centre)

 

Best Supporting Actress

Aoibheann McCann – The Great Gatsby (The Gate)

Fiona Bell – Tribes (The Gate)

Ali White – The Effect (Project Arts Centre)

Sharon McCoy – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Maureen Rabbitt – This isn’t my Desk (Smock Alley)

Liz Fitzgibbon  – A Statue for Bill Clinton (Belvedere College)

Nessa Matthews – Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Project Arts Centre)

Best Set Design

Francis O’Connor – Waiting for Godot/Private Lives/King of the Castle/The Dumb Waiter/ (Druid/The Abbey & The Gate & Druid/The Gaiety & The Gate)

Owen MacCarthaigh – The Pillowman (Gaiety Theatre)

Ciaran Bagnall – The Great Gatsby (The Gate)

Molly O’Cathain – Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Project Arts Centre)

Conor Murphy – Tribes (The Gate)

Jamie Vartan – Arlington (Landmark/The Abbey)

 

Best Lighting Design

James F. Ingalls – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

Ciaran Bagnall – The Pillowman (The Gaiety)

Jason Taylor – The Dumb Waiter (The Gate)

Kris Mooney – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Adam Silverman – Arlington (Landmark/The Abbey)

 

Best Sound Design

Carl Kennedy – The Pillowman (The Gaiety)

Greg Clarke – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

Declan Brennan – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Helen Atkinson – Arlington (Landmark/The Abbey)

Ivan Birthistle – Tribes (The Gate)

 

Best Costume Design

Peter O’Brien – Private Lives/The Great Gatsby (The Gate & The Gate)

Francis O’Connor – Waiting for Godot (Druid/The Abbey)

Joan O’Clery – The Dumb Waiter (The Gate)

The Costume Room – King Lear (The Mill Theatre)

Special Mention

Bryan Cranston – Network (National Theatre)

Well here we go again, including London in these awards, but an exception must again be made.

Cranston’s multi-faceted turn was a performance that made this play better than its cinematic precursor.

 

August 31, 2013

On Ben Affleck Being the Batman

I’ve been musing with John Fahey about Ben Affleck returning to blockbuster leading man roles by playing Batman, and I feel Affleck’ll probably nail it.

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I was, of course, initially disappointed by the casting announcement. But not for the same reason that most people who vented their spleen early on seemed to be disappointed/outraged. It seems harsh on the great Joseph Gordon-Levitt to have spent an entire bloody film being taught how to be the Batman by Christian Bale only to be shafted immediately by Warner Bros at his first chance to be the Batman. The hysteria surrounding Affleck’s casting struck me as very odd; like many people were still stuck in 2003 and reeling from the awfulness of Gigli and Paycheck. Announcing Affleck as the lead in Batman Begins back then, well, yes – outrage entirely justified. But this is 2013, the second act of Affleck’s cinematic life. Have people forgotten Hollywoodland, Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo only months after everyone loved him for accepting the Academy’s snub to his directing with dignity?

Ben Affleck has much in common with the equally maligned Mark Wahlberg. They are not the greatest actors in the world, but they’re certainly not bad actors. Yes, they can be acted off-screen by most any actor willing to stop yawning on set and make the effort. But that willingness to be out-acted is important, they provide an invaluable still centre. John C Reilly appeared at Trinity College a few years back and recounted bullying a theatre director into finally giving him the lead in a Restoration comedy, only to be bored silly on realising Congreve gave the best lines to supporting characters. Reilly’s function was to hold the chaos of the comedy together by being the still centre; and he immediately returned to his comfort zone of playing one of the supporting characters upstaging the romantic lead. Wahlberg and Affleck have given memorable supporting turns (The Departed, I Heart Huckabees, Good Will Hunting, Hollywoodland), but as leading men they don’t mesmerise; but that’s not necessarily always bad. Argo couldn’t support Goodman, Arkin & Cranston’s scenery-chewing profane quipping without Affleck quieting it, and The Fighter’s Bale, Adams & Leo OTT-competition would’ve gone into low-earth orbit without Wahlberg’s stoicism grounding it.

And Batman is, to a large degree, cinematically a still centre. The complaint oft made of Bat-movies – that the villains always walk off with the film – is exactly the complaint you’d expect to recur if a character is a still centre enabling craziness around him. (Affleck suddenly sounds like a very good fit…) Batman’s strength derives in part from his silence. Ninjas aren’t chatty. He lurks in shadows, and pounces on people when they least expect it. Batman doesn’t say much; he just appears and beats people up, that’s what makes him intimidating – he’s almost a pure physical presence to criminals, even those who never encounter him but whose imaginations he vividly inhabits. And in the comics even in the privacy of his own thought bubbles he usually thinks like Hemingway clipped some of the floweriness off of Raymond Chandler prose. And if you’ve read Jeph Loeb’s Hush and Superman/Batman you’ll note that a lot of Batman’s dialogue is sarcastic commentary on Superman’s problem-solving abilities. That sounds a lot like Affleck’s main function in Argo.

But whither Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne? He can’t very well play a billionaire playboy as a still centre, can he? Well, Christian Bale has hammered home the difference between private and public Bruce Wayne so this shouldn’t actually be that major a problem. It would, after all, feel like a waste of everyone’s time to have Robert Downey Jr play public Bruce Wayne the way he plays Tony Stark and then morph into terse earnestness for the other two parts of the Bat-persona. Affleck’s performance in The Town is probably a good model for his private Bruce, and if Argo cohort Bryan Cranston really is playing Lex Luthor then life as public Bruce Wayne gets a lot easier for Affleck as he can bounce quips off a fellow billionaire with whom he has existing good comic chemistry. Even if Cranston’s not Lex, Affleck has absurdly essayed an appropriately insouciant charm. Imagine a combination of Affleck’s Click ad for Lynx, his role in Argo, and the end narration of Daredevil and you have his Batman.

And that’s not bad. With the juvenile Zack Snyder directing it’s the Batman we deserve, but not the one we need right now probably the best we could hope for.

November 27, 2012

An Arrow of a different colour

I root for shows to stay on the air, not least because so many shows I’ve loved (Cupid, Studio 60, Vengeance Unlimited) have been prematurely cancelled, but … I really hope Arrow gets scrapped soon.

There’s been a Smallville-sized gap in my world for a year now, and so Arrow you’d imagine would be right up my street. But it’s not, it’s really not; for many reasons, mostly to do with other programmes. Arrow is a show that seems to have been created by putting other hits in a blender, and then just running with whatever derivative gloop emerged. It would appear that the producers noticed that Revenge was popular last season and so figured they also could surf the zeitgeist and take down 99%ers every week, complete with Green Arrow drawing a line thru the name of the fat cat he’d successfully ruined; just like Emily’s crossing an X thru the face of the person in the group photo she’d destroyed at the end of early episodes of Revenge. Every time I see the Queen mansion in Arrow all I can think of is Lex Luthor’s mansion in Smallville. If it’s not actually the same exterior then it sure looks like it, and it’s just a bit distracting. Furthermore while Arrow fails to match the charm of early Smallville, it’s overdosing on the angst that soon blighted that show. 5 episodes in and Laurel Dinah Lance has already stated, for not particularly clear reasons, that she and Oliver Queen can never be together. Even though their character names make it blindingly obvious they will be, eventually. And so Clark and Lana nonsense begins anew…

But these aren’t even the most aggravating or troubling derivative elements of Arrow. The constant flashbacks, to Oliver Queen’s 5 years on a remote island where he became Green Arrow, complete with meaningful life lessons from a cryptically wise Chinese Arrow screamed LOST and that was before The Others showed up… It was bad enough having to endure a flashback vignette every week that related to the main story, but now there are well-organised and well-resourced military personnel on an island where shipwrecked survivors are hunting animals for food. These Others are led by a man with staring eyes, just like Ben Linus, who is the Big Bad of the show, not least because he has sadistic torturer Deathstroke at his disposal. And then for the final kicker it’s revealed that the Mandarin name for the island means … Purgatory. Just, no… we don’t need more LOST meanderings, six years of pointless nonsense was enough. And then there’s the Nolan riffing. In the first episode Oliver was seen at a grinder getting his weapons sharp, in a scene shot farcically like its model in Batman Begins where Bruce makes his first throwing Bats. But then a shadowed Oliver goes on to growl to Laurel about he can give her leverage for a case, just like Batman growled as he gave his lawyer love interest Rachel leverage on Judge Faden. That’d be okay if perhaps Arrow appreciated why Nolan’s Batman worked…

But Arrow doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how comic-book superheroes operate. When in the pilot Oliver Queen, out of costume, caught a criminal who’d kidnapped him and then broke his neck shouting “No one can know my secret!” it was an enormous shock, because it was such a stunning mis-step, and anti-Nolan to the nth degree despite all the borrowings from Nolan elsewhere. It was a return to the ethics or lack thereof of Tim Burton’s Batman who very deliberately murdered the Joker as well as carelessly offing God knows how many goons along the way. Green Arrow’s subsequent shooting of a corrupt tycoon with an arrow thru the hand was far nastier than Batman dropping Sal Maroni to break his ankles, because Nolan’s Batman was being forced to extremes by the Joker’s madness whereas that’s just how this Green Arrow rolls… And for all Green Arrow’s homicidal antics by the end of episode 4 he’s been arrested by the police for being Green Arrow. So his first murder was in vain… Only things get even better. You see, like The Joker, Loki and Silva – he planned on getting caught! He wanted them to lock him up in the MCU Skybase Churchill Bunker Queen mansion. Because, like The Dark Knight Rises, the important thing is not that Oliver Queen is Green Arrow but that there will always be a Green Arrow, no matter who’s under the hood…

Except, why should we care who is under the hood if he’s just a cold-blooded killer? Nolan’s Batman famously only has one rule – don’t kill people. Maim the hell out of them, by all means, but don’t kill them. Arrow seems to think it can lift huge chunks from Nolan’s Bat-verse and then also appropriate the industrial slaughter of Maggie Q’s Nikita, but Nikita comes from a dark place – that’s the character. She’s a drug addict who killed people before she got forced by the government to join a secret government agency and kill people before she went rogue and embarked on a new mission to kill bad people. Killing is an essential part of Nikita as a character, but not killing has always been an equally essential part of DC Comics’ superheroes as characters. David S Goyer noted that they very deliberately had Batman throw Joker off a building and then save him in The Dark Knight as a riposte to the end of Burton’s Batman because both he and Christopher Nolan felt that Batman killing Joker had been a terrible tonal mistake. And it was a mistake, just witness the brilliance of the scene that Batman then shares with the Joker dangling from a rope. There’s a mystical connection between those two characters that doesn’t allow for simple killing. Superman can’t simply knock off Lex Luthor, and it goes beyond the morality of the characters to a sense of epic grandeur. This isn’t just comic-book bilge incidentally, look at Albert Camus’ description in The Rebel of Spartacus seeking out his opposing number Crassus to die in single combat against him and him alone.

The amorality of the lead character who should be a straight arrow, as it were, is only one part of the problem though. Oliver Queen in Smallville was transparently a Batman substitute, but Justin Hartley’s performance as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow had a nonchalance entirely absent from Stephen Amell’s wooden earnestness in Arrow. Some of this may be due to the different functions of the character, Hartley was there for sparring with earnest Clark Kent whereas Amell as lead character to some degree is earnest Clark Kent. But Hartley’s Green Arrow had the same formative traumas in his past, and it didn’t swamp the character’s traditional sardonic nature, while Amell’s inert demeanour never allows him to convince as the party animal that makes Oliver Queen such close kin to Bruce Wayne. Nolan allowed us to see that public Bruce Wayne, private Bruce Wayne and Batman were three distinct personalities; and that private Bruce Wayne was a good man. But Arrow has failed to make private Oliver Queen much more likeable than public Oliver Queen. And this points to a bigger problem.

Thor and John Carter placed alongside Arrow seem to indicate that we are in the middle of a bona fide scriptwriting crisis. There’s a distinction between a rogue and a dick that appears to have been lost. Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter was deeply unlikeable as a hero, and the film was reduced to not only bafflingly introducing Bryan Cranston as a metaphorical cat to be saved, but then introducing an actual dog to be saved as well later, in a vain effort to get us to like Carter.  Thor meanwhile was entirely upended by the fact that Thor was a thoroughly unlikeable jerk who only became bearable in the last act of the film, which enabled the suave Tom Hiddleston as Loki to steal the entire movie as the cleverer brother forever cleaning up the messes of his petulant blowhard sibling. A classic rogue, like Han Solo, or even Ian Somerhalder’s Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries, is cocky, likeable, and from the perspective of the other characters entirely unreliable, even though the audience always has a sneaking suspicion that the bad boy will come through in the end no matter how many times he weasels out on doing the right thing along the way to serve his own agenda. But Thor, John Carter, and Arrow are sunk by heroes who aren’t remotely likeable. Arrow has dropped the Green to emphasise its edginess but it’s dropped its character’s resonance too…

I’m sticking with Arrow for now to see Seth Gabel aka Jeremy Darling from Dirty Sexy Money as Vertigo, but once Gabel leaves the show I won’t be far behind.

June 6, 2012

Red Tails

George Lucas produces and semi-directs a pet project about the heroism of the black fighter pilots of the Tuskagee Squadron in WWII’s segregated US Airforce.

Nate Parker’s earnest Marty ‘Easy’ Julian leads a rag-tag band of fighter pilots on low-rent missions over Italy attacking German transport trains. His best friend and most insubordinate officer is Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (Rise of the POTA’s David Oyelowo), the best pilot in the squadron but given to glory-hunting manoeuvres. Samuel ‘Joker’ George (Elijah Kelley) is, surprisingly given his moniker, the sensible one, while Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon (90210’s Tristan Wilds) is the youngster aching to be renamed ‘Gamma Ray’. Their commander Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard) faces down official racism at the Pentagon from Colonel William Mortamus (a cameoing Bryan Cranston) in his battle to secure better planes and more prestigious missions for his segregated Tuskagee Squadron. But can his men, wrestling with their own personal demons, live up to the strain of acting as paragons for their race?

Lucas started developing this movie in the late 1980s. Anthony Hemingway finally filmed John Ridley’s script only for Lucas to direct reshoots of new material written by Aaron MacGruder (creator of The Boondocks). Sadly MacGruder’s acerbity is hard to spot whereas Lucas’ trademark saturation CGI is everywhere. There are numerous set-pieces in this film that would be very exciting if not for their complete air of unreality. If you’re watching a patently fake plane dive-bomb a patently fake train traversing a patently fake landscape your mind has already checked out, and that’s the opening sequence… Easy’s occasional struggle with alcoholism and Lightning’s implausible engagement to an Italian woman (NCIS: LA’s Daniela Ruah) despite their inability to communicate across their linguistic divide exemplify the script’s weakness. The much debated historical inaccuracies then undermine the worthy rationale of this venture.

There are some nice touches, like Jaime King’s voice floating over the camp as Axis Mary, and the much feared new Messchersmit jet-planes roaring into the fray like sci-fi creations, but the actors are better than the material. Ne-Yo as the guitar-picking ‘Smoky’ and Wire star Andre Royo as the long-suffering mechanic ‘Coffee’ offer fine comic relief, Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr as his right-hand man are nicely authoritative, and Lee Tergesen and Gerald McRaney offer nicely counterpointed turns as the Colonel pushing racial equality and the purely pragmatic Lt Gen who offers a prestigious mission guarding bombers on the strict condition that, unlike the white pilots they’re replacing, they forego all chance of dogfight glory and protect the bombers. The film loses all momentum in its third act, before Lars Van Riesen’s absurdly comic-book Nazi villain ‘Pretty Boy’ attacks to provide a rousing finale that’s sadly familiar.

Red Tails is not worth a trip to the cinema, but it’s a very watchable film that will fit comfortably into Sunday afternoon TV schedules.

2.5/5

September 21, 2011

Drive

Ryan Gosling is an enigmatic part-time getaway driver who falls foul of LA gangsters in this misfiring existential thriller.

Drive is a film of two parts, the first part is rather good, and the second part is quite troubling. We’re introduced to Gosling’s unnamed driver in a great, great opening. Rumbling beats (that Fincher’s probably already bought the rights to) underscore a getaway of sublime skill and suavity. Those beats give way to a synthtastic 1980s homage soundtrack as the film slows to an enigmatic and brilliant crawl as it fleshes out Gosling’s life. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston is Gosling’s mentor, a mechanic and film stunt co-ordinator crippled by men close to Ron Perlman’s savage Jewish mobster Nino, who now dreams of getting his protege to put his driving skills to more public use in stock-car. Albert Brooks is the ‘nice’ mobster who’ll fund their team. This move to normality is mirrored by Gosling’s growing friendship with neighbour Carey Mulligan, as he becomes a surrogate father to her young son.

This humanising of the taciturn Gosling is beautifully photographed and reminiscent of Fish Tank in its finding of pastoral in an urban landscape. Mulligan is an empathetic presence while Brooks excels at using his nice-guy persona to complicate our attitudes to his mobster. The introduction of the plot, rather than turning this film into 1978’s sublime The Driver, merely scuppers things. The Obstacle Carey’s husband returns from jail owing protection money so our hero decides to help him and a cameoing Christina Hendricks out on a low-risk heist, which goes disastrously wrong. Brooks’ in-camera mission statement, “I used to produce movies in the 80s. Action, arty stuff. The critics liked them, called them European. I thought they were shit”, then kicks in. Director Nicolas Winding Refn uses music, a car-crash, and surf rolling into a deserted beach at night to incredibly foreboding effect in staging one murder, but mostly his use of violence is both unnecessary and excessive.

Do you want to see a woman’s head get blown apart by a shotgun blast in slow motion, a man have his hand smashed repeatedly with a hammer, a man have a fork thrust in his eyeball to distract him while his assailant searches for a cleaver to plunge repeatedly into his neck and chest, a man have his arm slit open by a cut-throat razor, or a man have his head kicked in until he’s quite dead and then kicked some more until bone-dust rises up into the camera? Well if you don’t then you should leave half-way thru Drive. Gosling is charismatic in his Eastwoodian role, and you can see why he personally chose Refn as director, but this is less an existentialist thriller and more just humourless grindhouse masquerading as arthouse.

If you loved The Driver, you might like half of Drive

2/5

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