Talking Movies

October 6, 2016

War on Everyone

John Michael McDonagh’s third film as writer/director attempts to mash up the concerns of his first two films, The Guard and Calvary, with intermittent success.

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Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) is rarely sober. His work buddy Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) is rarely polite. But that doesn’t matter because they literally have a get out of jail free card, they’re cops. But they won’t be cops for much longer if Lt. Stanton (Paul Reiser) doesn’t see them rein in the lunacy. Dialling down the public drunkenness and excessive force is a huge ask when Terry and Bob stumble, via their CI Reggie (Malcolm Barrett), onto a complicated heist. Dazzled by the prospect of acquiring riches; and on Terry’s part, Jackie (Tessa Thompson), a moll at a loose end; the dirty duo unwittingly put themselves in the bad books with an unlikely mastermind after one beating a suspect mercilessly too far. Lord James Mangan (Theo James) is the nemesis fate has set up for these cheerfully corrupt detectives.

War on Everyone does not live up to the high expectations held for it as while it features any number of hilarious lines and ideas it never truly gels. It doesn’t rattle along like an absurdist procedural with philosophical tangents, but it isn’t an episodic tale in service of a larger philosophical meditation either, so it falls between the two stools of The Guard and Calvary. Lorne Balfe’s score is heroically in thrall to 1970s brass, funk and bombast, while Terry’s preoccupation with Glen Campbell finds full tuneful fulfilment on the soundtrack. The New Mexico locations are strikingly captured by Oren Moverman’s regular cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, a highlight being a distant tracking shot capturing Skarsgard chasing a perp. And in a delirious scripting touch Terry’s constant outrageous drinking is shown wreaking havoc on his memory and his ability to work.

War on Everyone is a memorable film, not a great one, but a patchwork that uses to the full its licence to offend is preferable to any cookie-cutter banality.

3.5/5

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January 20, 2016

2016: Hopes

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 3:38 pm
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Midnight Special

Mud writer/director Jeff Nichols makes his studio debut on April 15th with this tale he places roughly in the territory of John Carpenter’s Starman and De Palma’s The Fury. Nichols regular Michael Shannon plays a father forced to go on the run with his son after discovering the kid has special powers, and the FBI is interested in them… Sam Shepard also recurs, as does cinematographer Adam Stone, while Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, and Joel Edgerton join the Nichols stable. It’s hard to imagine a genre tale from Nichols, but perhaps an unusually heart-felt Stephen King captures it.

Everybody Wants Some

April 15th sees Richard Linklater release a ‘spiritual sequel’ to both Dazed and Confused and Boyhood. Little is known for sure about Everybody Wants Some, other than it’s a comedy-drama about college baseball players during the 1980s, that follows a boy entering college, meeting a girl, and a new band of male friends. The cast features Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, and Zoey Deutch, so in retrospect may be as star-studded as his 1993 exploration of the end of high school. Hopefully it’s as archetypal and poignant as that as regards the college experience.

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Love & Friendship

On April 27th almost exactly four years since Damsels in Distress the urbane Whit Stillman returns with another tale of female friendship, with a little help in the scripting department from Jane Austen. His Last Days of Disco stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny reunite for this adaptation of Austen’s ‘Lady Susan’ novella shot in Ireland. Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, and Xavier Samuel are the supporting players as Beckinsale tries to marry off her daughter (Morfydd Clark) but the real attraction is Stillman, poet of dry wit and elite social rituals, adapting an author with similar preoccupations.

The Nice Guys

Shane Black’s third directorial effort, out on May 20th, sees him back on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang territory. Get ready for Ryan Gosling to Bogart his way thru the seedy side of the City of Angels as Holland March, PI. March partners up with a rookie cop (Matt Bomer) to investigate the apparent suicide of a porn star. But standing in his way is an LA Confidential reunion: Kim Basinger as femme fatale, Russell Crowe as Det. Jackson Healy. It’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of terrific dialogue carrying some hysterically self-aware genre deconstruction.

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Queen of Earth

We can expect writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s latest movie to hit Irish cinemas sometime in June. Listen Up Philip star Elisabeth Moss takes centre-stage here alongside Inherent Vice’s Katherine Waterston as two old friends who retreat to a lake house only to discover that they have grown very far apart with the passage of time. Keegan DeWitt scores his second movie for ARP not with jazz but a dissonance appropriate to the unusual close-ups, that have invited comparison with Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, as a spiky Waterston hurts an emotionally wounded Moss in all the old familiar places.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Roland Emmerich, the maestro of bombastic action that is actually mocking its audience, returns on June 24th (for some reason) with a belated sequel in which the aliens come back. Jeff Goldblum has led a 20 year scramble to harness alien tech to strengthen earth’s defences but will those efforts (and Liam Hemsworth’s mad piloting skills) be enough against an even more imposing armada? Sela Ward is the POTUS, Bill Pullman’s POTUS has grown a beard, his daughter has morphed from Mae Whitman into Maika Monroe, and the indefatigable Judd Hirsch returns to snark about these changes.

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La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling team up again on July 15th for an original musical from Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle. Gosling is a jazz musician in LA who falls in love with Stone’s aspiring actress, and that’s all you need for plot. Stone did an acclaimed turn as Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway, but whether Gosling or JK Simmons (!!) can hold a tune is unknown. The real question is will it be half-embarrassed to be a musical (Chicago), attempt unwise grittiness (New York, New York), or be as mental as aMoulin Rouge! with original songs?

Suicide Squad

And on August 5th we finally get to see what Fury auteur David Ayer has done with Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery. The latest trailer has amped up the nonsense quotient considerably, and this now looks like The Dirty Dozen scripted by Grant Morrison. Joel Kinnaman’s long-suffering Rick Flagg has to lead into combat the assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), angry mercenary Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), half-man half-crocodile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and the psycho in psychotherapy, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). All eyes are on Robbie’s take on Harley, well until Jared Leto’s Mistah J turns up…

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Sausage Party

August 12th sees the release of probably the most ridiculous film you will see all year, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have scripted an adult animation about a sausage in a grocery store on a quest to discover the truth of his existence. Apart from Jay Baruchel, all the voices you’d expect are present and correct: James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz, as well as Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, and Salma Hayek. But given how Green Hornet failed can R-rated semi-improvised comedy and animation go hand in hand?

War on Everyone

The Guard in New Mexico! Okay, maybe not quite, but in that wheelhouse. In late August John Michael McDonagh makes his American bow with a blackly comic thriller about two renegade cops (Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Pena) who have devoted themselves to blackmailing and framing every criminal who crosses their path. And then they come across that somebody they shouldn’t have messed with… McDonagh’s two previous outings as writer/director have been very distinctive, visually, philosophically, and verbally, but you wonder if he’ll have to endlessly self-censor his take no prisoners comedy for ‘liberal’ American sensibilities. Hopefully not.

American actor Matt Damon attends a press conference for his new movie "The Great Wall" in Beijing, China on July 2, 2015. Pictured: Matt Damon Ref: SPL1069228 020715 Picture by: Imaginechina / Splash News Splash News and Pictures Los Angeles:310-821-2666 New York:212-619-2666 London:870-934-2666 photodesk@splashnews.com

The Girl on the Train

Following Gone Girl another book of the moment thriller gets rapidly filmed on October 7th when Emily Blunt becomes the titular voyeur. From her commuter train seat she witnesses the interactions of perfect couple Haley Bennett and Luke Evans as she slows down at a station on the way to London. Then one day she sees something she shouldn’t have, and decides to investigate… The impressive supporting cast includes Rebecca Ferguson, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney, and Justin Theroux, but it’s not clear if Secretary screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson has relocated the action to New York.

The Great Wall

November 23rd sees Chinese director Zhang Yimou embrace Hollywood, with an English-language story about the construction of the Great Wall of China scripted by Max Brooks and Tony Gilroy. Zhang has assembled an impressive international cast including Matt Damon, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Jing Tian, Zhang Hanyu, and Mackenzie Foy for this sci-fi fantasy of the Wall’s completion. Little is known about the actual plot, but Zhang’s recent movies about the Cultural Revolution have been a drastic change of pace from the highly stylised colourful martial arts epics of Imperial China he’s known for in the West.

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The Founder

Michael Keaton cements his leading man comeback on November 25th with a blackly comic biopic of Ray Kroc. Who is Ray Kroc you ask? The Founder of … McDonald’s. Yes the McDonald brothers did own a hamburger store, but it wasn’t them that expanded into a national and then global, brand. That was all Kroc, who bought them out, and then forgot to pay them royalties; one of several incidents of what people might call either unethical behaviour or recurrent amnesia. Supporting players include Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, and Patrick Wilson, so this tale might be quite tasty.

Story of Your Life

Denis Villeneuve gears up for directing Blade Runner 2 with an original sci-fi movie that should arrive late in 2016. A first contact story, adapted by Eric Heisserer from Ted Chiang’s short story, it follows Amy Adams’ Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics expert recruited by the U.S. military. Her job is to decipher an alien race’s communications, but her close encounter with ET causes vivid flashbacks to events from her life. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg are physicists and spooks trying to figure out what her unnerving experiences mean for rest of the humanity.

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Passengers

Stomping on Rogue One with a December 21st release date is the dream team of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Poor Keanu Reeves spent years trying to make this sci-fi rom-com happen but as soon as these two expressed interest Jon Spaihts’ long-circling script got permission to land. Pratt wakes from cryo-sleep 90 years too early, so wakes up another passenger to relieve his loneliness on the somnambulant spaceship. Michael Sheen is a robot, but the potential for delight is offset by worthy director Morten Tyldum and the high probability of the contrivance of every other rom-com being used.

Assassin’s Creed

‘One for the studio, One for ourselves’. As it were. December 21st sees the acclaimed Macbeth trio of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and director Justin Kurzel reunite for a blockbuster based on the all-conquering game. Ubisoft Motion Pictures (yes, that’s really a thing now) and New Regency have opted not to adapt the story of Desmond Miles, or Ezio Auditore; perhaps in case this bombs. Fassbender plays original character Callum Lynch who can commune with his ancestor Aguilar, also played by Fassbender; presumably with a devilish grin as he battles the Spanish Inquisition. Fingers crossed that this works.

January 27, 2015

Top Performances of 2014

As the traditional complement to the Top 10 Films, here are the Top Performances of 2014. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as top of the class, the runners up being right behind them, with also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.

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Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) Arquette’s character grows older but not wiser, instead we see her becomingly increasingly brittle as even she realises that she’s sensible about everything except her romantic choices.

Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) Forming a great double act with Ben Affleck, Coon broke out from theatre with a glorious turn as his twin sister– the foulmouthed and spiky voice of reason.

Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) Lawrence was perhaps too young for the part, but she played it with such comic panache that her sporadic appearances energised an overlong film.

Runners Up:

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Frank) Gyllenhaal was pitch-perfect as scary obscurantist Clara, with wonderful nuance in the slow reveal of how such off-kilter music bonds her and Frank’s damaged and isolated psyches.

Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) Foy was bright, furious, and resentful, and blew Jessica Chastain off the screen as the younger iteration of their character, the indomitable Murph.

Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) Paulson’s casual brutality towards slaves was deeply shocking, but her horror at being replaced sexually by a slave subtly underscored her menace.

Also Placed:

Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill) Parodying her hyper-sexualised persona (The Informers) Heard, in leathers and wigs, flirted with burlesque girls and sexualised both driving fast and injecting medicine.

Joey King (Wish I Was Here) Pitted against Zach Braff’s glibly sarcastic agnosticism the sincerity of King’s adherence to Jewish faith, language, and cultural identity blew him off the screen.

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Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) His character’s drugs spiral, even as his friendship with Ron becomes beautiful, was extremely moving, with his fierce commitment extending to deliberately ravaging his appearance.

Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) His vicious bible-thumping alcoholic was terrifying, but also complex; slaves are either sub-human or masters are guilty, and Epps is self-destructing from mercilessly exploiting his slaves.

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) Hawke physically filled out in a career-best performance of serious comedy as deadbeat dad whose rebelliousness was an affectation thrown off for mellow acquiescence with the world.

Runners Up:

Andrew Scott (The Stag, Locke) Scott was their sole highlight: his Locke vocal performance exuded excitability and exasperation, while Davin was a man fatally wounded by romantic rejection being tortured some more by his ex-girlfriend.

Killian Scott (Calvary, ’71) His Calvary misfit Milo was dementedly funny in rambling frustration, and he so transformed into ruthless IRA leader Quinn that he seemed not only older and tougher, but almost taller.

Zac Efron (Bad Neighbours) Efron’s previous subversions of his image were nothing next to this jackpot: his squeaky clean looks have never been put to such diabolical and hilarious use.

James Corden (Begin Again) Corden not only frequently gave the impression that he was ad-libbing great comedy moments, but also that he was improvising Knightley into unscripted corpsing bonhomie.

Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) Bautista took what could have been a tiresome running gag and instead by dedicated deadpan made utter literalness to the point of insanity infinitely unexpected and hysterical.

Also Placed:

Adam Driver (What If, Tracks) Sparring against Mackenzie Davis and Daniel Radcliffe in What If he was highly amusing and occasionally sagacious, and was both funny and adorably awkward in Tracks.

Gene Jones (The Sacrament) He was patently playing Jim Jones, and turned the charisma up to 11 for a TV interview that was so mesmerising it explained Father’s cult of personality.

Mandy Patinkin (Wish I Was Here) Patinkin brought deep humanity and biting humour to his wise, religious father disappointed by his glib, agnostic son but delighted by his bright, devout granddaughter.

Tyler Perry (Gone Girl) The man can actually act! And as celebrity defence attorney Tanner Bolt he transformed the oily character from the novel by bringing palpable warmth to the part.

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Best Actress

Keira Knightley (Begin Again) Knightley sang rather well, but not only did she carry a tune she also carried the movie with a return of her old confidence. Maybe all that’s needed to restore the old swagger is James Corden ad-libbing her into improvising so she forgets her stage-fright.

Mackenzie Davis (We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, What If) Her What If wild child was oddly reminiscent of Katy Perry, albeit interpolated with Daisy Buchanan, and was strikingly different from her reserved bookworm subtly using her wits to escape a noir nightmare in We Gotta.

Runners Up:

Rose Byrne (Bad Neighbours) It’s always a joy when Byrne gets to use her native Australian accent, and she swaggered with such foul-mouthed comedic assurance that at times Seth Rogen became her foil as the sensible one in their marriage.

Agyness Deyn (Electricity) Deyn was a commanding presence. She grabbed with both hands this defiant character, who wears short dresses and fluorescent jacket; drawing the eye to a body covered in cuts; and had no vanity in showing these effects of seizures.

Also Placed:

Juno Temple (Magic Magic) Temple reprised some elements of her naïf in Killer Joe, though thankfully she was less over-exposed here, and made her character’s steady descent into insomniac madness chillingly plausible.

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Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) McConaughey’s physical commitment to the role was jaw-dropping, initially rake-thin before then wasting away before your eyes to harrowing effect. Initially unsympathetic, he patiently revealed the hidden softer side which engaged Dr Eve, and beautifully developed an unlikely and most affecting friendship with Rayon.

Runners Up:

Daniel Radcliffe (What If) Radcliffe is sensational as the hero who’s crippled romantically by his traumatised desire to act ethically. A Young Doctor’s Notebook served notice of his comedy chops, but combining uncomprehending deadpan and dramatic sharpness this was a comic role of unexpected substance.

Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again) It’s hard to imagine anyone else, save 1973 Elliot Gould, pulling off this role quite as well. The Ruffalo exudes immense shambolic charm, shuffling about in scruffy clothes, doing permit-free guerrilla location live music recording that would make Werner Herzog proud.

Dan Stevens (The Guest) The Guest is a high-risk gamble that would fail spectacularly if its leading man was not on fire. Luckily for all concerned Stevens burns a hole in the screen with a Tom Hiddleston as Loki level performance – playing scenes tongue-in-cheek serious as the charismatic helpful stranger.

Also Placed:

Ben Affleck (Gone Girl) Affleck as an actor too often contentedly coasts, and (even when gifted zingers as in Argo) acts as a still centre. But, with Fincher pushing him with endless takes, he was fantastic as the hapless everyman; who we root for despite his flaws.

Pal Sverre Hagen (Kon-Tiki, In Order of Disappearance) The imposing Norwegian perfectly captured old-fashioned grit, naive enthusiasm, and quiet heroism as Thor Heyerdahl, and then played crime-lord The Count as an epically self-pitying vegan equally stressed by divorced parenting with his ex-wife, and a nasty turf war with Serbian mobsters.

October 15, 2014

’71 – 7 Dispatches

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1. Holmes

Belfast native David Holmes has composed the grooving soundtrack for a lot of good films with an eye for suspense and action, being Steven Soderbergh’s go-to-guy. But I don’t think he’s done 1970s synth menace before, and when he unleashes it in the third act to long takes and tracking shots of people stalking the endless concourses in The Divis block of flats it ratchets up the tension.

2. Scott

I love it when actors play the extremes of their range in a single year, and Killian Scott does it here. Scott had the funniest scenes in Calvary as misfit Milo, convinced that being homicidal would be a plus for the army – ‘like an engineering degree’. As the ruthless emerging IRA leader Quinn in ’71 he seems older, tougher, and even almost taller so complete is the transformation.

3. Dredd/Dread

’71 is so unpredictable that you don’t expect Chekhov’s rifles. And yet one pops up. “You can use the Divis as an orientation point, but don’t go inside the flats. It’s an IRA stronghold” the soldiers are told at their briefing. So of course Gary wakes up to find himself on one the top floors of The Divis, with the IRA coming up, and guarding all possible exits…

4. In-Country

“You know where Belfast is, right? Northern Ireland. United Kingdom. Same country. You’re not leaving the country” the deploying soldiers are informed. Well… they kind of are. Gary’s complete bafflement at the sectarian madness that greets him in Belfast almost satirises Thatcher’s infamous contention that Northern Ireland was just as British as Finchley. This isn’t so much not leaving the country, as going in-country in the Vietnam sense…

5. Football/Religion

One of the funny moments of the film comes when Jack O’Connell’s protagonist has his named parsed: Gary Hook, obviously Protestant. Just to confirm he’s not a Taig, he’s asked by his foul-mouthed child protector if he is a Protestant. “Uh, I dunno.” “You don’t know?! Now I’ve heard everything.” Later he demurs any possible Nottingham connection, “Darbyshire and Nottingham don’t really get on.” “Why?” “Don’t know really.”

6. Collusion

’71 initially surprises by using the Troubles almost as an incidental backdrop for an urban survival thriller. But then it really surprises in its acknowledgement of the North’s Dirty War. British military intelligence officers are depicted both training loyalists in bomb-making, and talking to leaders of the IRA. ’71 just takes it for granted that this is what happened, something which would outrage Daily Mail blowhard Peter Hitchens.

7. Reed

Black Watch playwright Gregory Burke and TV director Yann Demange (Dead Set, Criminal Justice) make an arresting cinematic debut with this movie – tense, sharply scripted, and directed with disorienting and dazzling flair. And praise doesn’t come much higher than saying it reminded me of another film about a wounded man in Belfast falling in with people with agendas of their own – Carol Reed’s 1947 classic Odd Man Out.

May 1, 2014

Twelfth Night

Wayne Jordan tackles Shakespeare’s serious comedy and the result is nearly three and a half hours of mystifying directorial decisions.

Viola (Sophie Robinson) and her ship’s Captain (Muiris Crowley) are washed up on the shores of Illyria. Her twin brother Sebastian having drowned, Viola adopts his wardrobe to become a male courtier to Duke Orsino (Barry John O’Connor); quickly being favoured above long-suffering Valentine (Elaine Fox). The Duke is in love with the widowed Olivia (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), who’ll have nothing to do with him. Olivia is also fending off the suit of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mark Lambert), friend of her dissolute cousin Sir Toby Belch (Nick Dunning). Her court is split between the punctiliousness of Malvolio (Mark O’Halloran) and the buffoonery of Sir Toby, with the Fool Feste (Ger Kelly) and Fabian (Lloyd Cooney) siding with Toby, especially when Olivia’s servant Maria (Ruth McGill) devises a prank to humble Malvolio. But Sebastian (Gavin Fullam) did not drown, he was saved by Antonio (Conor Madden), and their arrival causes comedic chaos…

That at least was what Shakespeare wrote, but it’s not what Jordan renders onstage. The opening line ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ is taken a bit … literally: 5 massive speakers are wheeled out onto the stage and Orsino plays raucous music on a mandolin plugged into them. It’s unfortunately reminiscent of the start of Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’ video… The speakers are (saving a fridge, table and chairs) all the set Ciaran O’Melia provides, and they’re redundant for most of the action. When active they provide comedy extraneous to the text: playing ‘Sexy Boy’ for the Duke parading his Freddie Mercury cloak, and Rage Against the Machine for Sir Toby standing on a table shouting profanities until the music is turned off. Sir Toby also gets a gong sounded when he does the crane pose during a fight, and he leads Feste and Sir Andrew in a barbershop version of ‘Firestarter’. These are all funny only by virtue of being inappropriate, but if you can’t find comedy within Shakespeare why stage him? Why not set Twelfth Night in Manhattan and sprinkle it with Woody Allen one-liners to get laughs?

This is the third Jordan Abbey production I’ve suffered thru after Alice in Funderland and The Plough and the Stars, and he apparently has no idea of pacing. Twelfth Night starts at 730 and runs until 1055 with one interval. It’s a romantic comedy, and it’s nearly 3 ½ hours long… The mark of a confident director of Shakespeare is their willingness to cut the Bard’s text. Instead Jordan inserts material: the insistence on having everyone listen while one character sings a song makes you feel you’ve wandered into some Cameron Crowe nightmare. The ‘brave’ anti-Catholicism of Alice is also in evidence, as, unheeding of Calvary’s critique of the blanket vilification of priests, Jordan decides that the priest interrogating Malvolio should be played by Feste adopting a thick Kerry accent. His appearance being preceded by a jibe from Shakespeare produces the bizarre spectacle of English Anti-Catholicism enacted via Irish Anti-Catholicism.

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And then there’s Jordan’s queering of Shakespeare and weak casting… Robinson fails to project the necessary comic vivacity as Viola, indeed by the finale Viola has become a petulant teenager, and her Northern accent does not synch with Fullam playing her ‘identical’ twin Sebastian at all. But internal logic isn’t much of a concern in this production. Sebastian is introduced in bed with Antonio (in their tiny whiteys, as everyone must appear in their underwear), as a very literal reading of a few lines of dialogue is used to make them a gay couple. But Jordan wants us to applaud this enlightened reading while at the same time having Valentine play pantomime shocked when she sees it, which is just ridiculously smug back-slapping: much like Alice’s ‘satire’, Jordan appears to think he’s scandalising an audience of Eisenhower and DeValera stalwarts. And then with massive illogicality Fullam’s fey mannerisms as Sebastian are instantly dropped for an enthusiastic sexual relationship with Olivia. Sebastian is either inconsistent or opportunistic, and faithful Antonio is totally shafted by Sebastian’s marriage to Olivia, who herself is played as obviously still in love with Viola in her female guise. Internal logic schlogic…

The obvious saving grace of this production is the great Mark O’Halloran as Malvolio. He is very funny, especially in convincing himself by crazy leaps of logic that Olivia has written him a love letter. His hysterical appearance in a full yellow-bodysuit underneath his suit is perhaps over-egging the comic pudding, but it’s saved by the perverse dignity with which he replaces his glasses over his hooded head. Radmall-Quirke also exudes that quality of perverse dignity in fending off Malvolio, and the gradual softening of her icy facade is well played. Ger Kelly is also a splendid physical presence as Feste, and his delivery of Fool’s wit sparkling. The impulse to go too far is intermittently present in Lambert’s drunken Sir Andrew, but his outraged vanity gets the biggest laugh out of the script Shakespeare actually wrote. Dunning, however, feels like he’s playing Aidan Gillen’s Sir Toby, not his own.

Dunning’s unexpectedly mean-spirited Sir Toby seems to feed into a bizarre interpretation of the text by Jordan, in which he wants to queer Shakespeare by having the traditional climatic heterosexual marriages be a parade of misery. Olivia and Antonio are unhappy at losing Viola and Sebastian. The Duke marries Viola for no apparent reason, making Valentine unhappy. Sir Toby is horrid to Sir Andrew, and loses his only friend, while Sir Andrew runs away from Illyria. And Malvolio runs thru the audience, with his face stained with tears. O’Halloran is so good you feel like crying at Malvolio’s humiliation, but his exit line could be high comedy as could Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s parting. Instead after 3 ½ hours nearly everyone ends up miserable. The finale is thus so muted that when Feste sings you half-expect the characters to come back. And then they all do, in their underwear … and gather under a giant shower-head, before running off to don bath-robes before bowing. As with so much else, such as the pointless drumming minor characters start before the audience has returned from the interval, I had no idea why that decision was taken.

This production will no doubt receive the acclaim that all Jordan’s projects get, but after three duds I can only protest such acclaim’s undeserved.

2/5

Twelfth Night continues its run at the Abbey until May 24th.

April 10, 2014

Calvary

John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson follow up The Guard with an episodic metaphysical drama punctuated by blackly comic diversions.

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Fr James (Brendan Gleeson) hears the confession of a parishioner who was sexually abused as a child by a priest. Except this isn’t a confession – the unseen parishioner informs James that he will kill him on their beach in one week: ‘Killing a priest on a Sunday. That’ll be a good one.’ James knows the identity of the parishioner, but, despite the flawless logic of his Bishop (David McSavage) that if no confession was made the seal of the confessional lapses, he will not reveal the identity of his designated assassin. Instead he goes about his pastoral duties, attempting to spiritually salve wife-beating butcher Jack (Chris O’Dowd), cynical atheist doctor Frank (Aidan Gillen), ailing American novelist Gerald (M Emmet Walsh), and jaded ex-financier Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran); none of whom want his counsel. One person who badly needs him though is his visiting suicidal London-Irish daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly). James became a priest after his wife’s death, leaving Fiona feeling abandoned…

Calvary is fantastically well acted by a truly impressive Irish ensemble, but is far removed from The Guard. There are dementedly funny scenes, like misfit Milo (Killian Scott) trying to convince James that wanting to kill people really badly would be a plus for being accepted into the army – ‘like an engineering degree’. But there are many more scenes addressing knotty theological concepts of fate, free will, evil, and forgiveness: a prime example being James’ fraught encounter with jailed cannibal serial killer Freddie (Domhnall Gleeson). I haven’t seen so many ideas thrown at the screen since I Heart Huckabees, but I’m unsure what McDonagh’s larger purpose is. Fr James, like Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory whiskey priest, is being shepherded towards his own squalid Calvary. But Greene’s imitation of Christ drew attention to the potential for holiness in a flawed man; James is marked for death because of his virtue – a good man expiating the sins of many.

But… this reading is undermined by a jaw-dropping scene where an irate stranger tars James with the general brush of ‘molesting cleric’, shocking the audience who’ve seen his deep compassion. The assassin’s wish to punish a good priest for the misdeeds of bad priests will be utterly lost, because outside their community everyone will assume James was a bad priest. But this may be deliberate. James seems at times to be an argument for married clergy, witness his comforting of newly-widowed Frenchwoman Teresa (Marie-Josee Croze), but then his daughter insists he put God above family. Refn’s DP Larry Smith captures the Sligo landscape to amazing effect, especially Ben Bulben – almost creating an Eden. But this is Eden where Sin has been banished as a concept. Veronica (Orla O’Rourke) provokes James with her public promiscuity, her lover Simon (Isaach De Bankole) distinguishes between believing in God and acting morally, and James himself tells Fiona too much stress has been laid on sin. James thinks forgiveness need emphasising, but publican Brendan (Pat Shortt), who now espouses Buddhism, beats the bebuddha out of people with a baseball bat – with no guilt; sin is passé, and forgiveness requires sin.

Calvary might deserve four stars. I don’t know. It’s more ambitious than nearly any other Irish film, but it outsmarted me; I feel I need to do extensive reading in Jean Amery and Fyodor Dostoevsky to apprehend McDonagh’s quicksilver.

3.5/5

January 20, 2014

JDIFF 2014: 20 Films

Booking opens for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival at 9am tomorrow, so here are 20 films to keep an eye on at the festival.

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CALVARY (7:30pm Thu 13th Feb, Savoy)

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to The Guard laces the trademark McDonagh black comedy with a more philosophical approach akin to Dostoyevsky as Brendan Gleeson’s priest is told in the confessional that he will be murdered in one week. As he tries to identify the murderer from the miscreants (Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson) who make up his flock, with little success, he realises that he may have to prepare to meet his maker. Only God Forgives cinematographer Larry Smith imbues the Yeats country of Sligo with an appropriate contemplative grandeur.

BIG SUR (9:00pm Fri 14th Feb, Lighthouse)

Twin Falls Idaho director Michael Polish tackles Jack Kerouc’s 1962 work Big Sur. At a brisk 81 minutes this shares none of the bloat of Walter Salles’ disastrous On the Road, though it shares a liking for direct quotation from Kerouac as voice-over. Jean-Marc Barr is the increasingly alcoholic and depressed Kerouac, who attempts to get sober and productive by gathering old friends Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards), Michael McClure (Balthazar Getty) and Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas) for a trip to an isolated Big Sur cabin (given extra sheen by cinematographer M David Mullen).

MYSTERY ROAD (9:00pm, Fri 14th Feb, Cineworld)

Red Hill’s set-up is reversed for another modern western set in Australia. Writer/director/editor/cinematographer/composer Ivan Sen creates a brooding mystery as Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns to his outback hometown, where his white colleagues deride him even as the aboriginal community distrusts him. He’s assigned the case of a young girl found dead in a drainage ditch as a deliberate dead-end, however, as he interrogates persons of interest including Hugo Weaving and Ryan Kwanten he discovers that even this sun-blanched town can harbour dark secrets. Sen’s enigmatic achievement is essentially a Western meets Chinatown.

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ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (11:00am, Sat 15th Feb, Savoy)

Jim Jarmusch’s unsurprisingly meditative vampire film is described as being “a shrewd and sensual subversion on familiar gothic mythology” as Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play Adam & Eve, centuries-old vampires reuniting after a spell apart to live in a grungy house in decaying Detroit, Adam being a reclusive musician. Eve’s feisty sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) appears, however, and disturbs their nocturnal utopia. Jarmusch’s recent films have been becoming an ever more acquired taste, so the joy of seeing John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe may not recompense for the glacial pacing.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2:00pm, Sat 15th Feb, Cineworld)

Wes Anderson. Your reaction to those two words is all you really need to know… Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave H, the legendary concierge of the titular hotel, and newcomer Tony Revolori plays Zero Revolori, his young friend and sidekick. Together they become embroiled in a plot revolving around a priceless Renaissance painting and a family fortune. The cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, and the inter-war setting gives Anderson’s regular production designer Adam Stockhausen scope to really go wild with the archly mannered sets.

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (6:30pm, Sat 15th Feb, Cineworld)

A striking adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel by Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele, this film follows two women during the dramas of Nigeria’s independence. Driven by powerful and moving performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls), we follow sisters Olanna (Newton) and Kainene (Rose), daughters of a well-to-do businessman, as their lives take very different paths. Olanna falls in love with a revolutionary, while Kainene enters into a romance with a white British writer. As civil war spreads, the sisters both flee to Biafra.

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STAY (8:00pm, Sat 15th Feb, Cineworld)

Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s Irish-Canadian co-production is based on Aislinn Hunter’s acclaimed novel Stay, set in Galway and Montreal. Archaeologist Aidan Quinn (Elementary) lives on Ireland’s west coast trying to bury his past. His young lover Taylor Schilling (Mercy) leaves when he disavows having children, returning to her native Montreal to reflect on her situation. Meanwhile, the local community trundles its way through death and birth, economic collapse and survival. But just as his professional and human engagement is renewed by a bogland find, her emotional confusion grows as she excavates her own family history.

STRANGER BY THE LAKE (9:00pm, Sat 15th Feb, Lighthouse)

Alain Guiraudie’s film starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, and Patrick d’Assumçao set Cannes abuzz. We follow Franck, a gay man who frequents the lake, popular with nudists and men cruising for sex in the surrounding forests. He comes to know Michel, to whom he is dangerously and foolishly attracted, and refuses to stay away from – entering a deadly game of cat and mouse. Hailed as a masterpiece of carefully constructed narrative and concentrated visual storytelling, electric with tension, desire and danger and featuring graphic unsimulated gay sex, it’s like explicit Highsmith.

TRACKS (11:00am, Sun 16th Feb, Savoy)

The Painted Veil director John Curran helms a story about one young woman’s nine-month trek across the Australian desert. Mia Wasikowska is mesmerising as a would-be lone explorer who does it because it’s there and she wants to be alone. She does, however, meet people on her trip, including Aboriginal ‘old fella’ Eddy (Rolley Mintuma) who helps see her through sacred desert areas. The stunning scenery is enhanced by judicious use of overhead shots, while cinematographer Mandy Walker does a spectacular job in conveying the stark beauty and inherent danger in the shifting landscape.

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A LONG WAY DOWN (8:00pm, Sun 16th Feb, Cineworld)

French rom-com specialist Pascal Chaumeil tackles Nick Hornby’s best-selling novel. Disgraced chat show host Pierce Brosnan reaches rock bottom on New Year’s Eve, standing on the roof of London’s premier suicide spot. But his suicide is thwarted by the arrival of other jumpers; Aaron Paul, a failed rock star with terminal cancer; Imogen Poots, an MP’s neglected daughter; and single mother Maureen Toni Collette, struggling to care for her severely disabled son. The quartet all pledge to refrain from attempts at suicide until Valentine’s Day – thus forming an unlikely support group.

THE WONDERS (PLAOT) (8:30pm, Sun 16th Feb, Cineworld)

Veteran director Avi Nesher indulges in labyrinthine comic fantasy as Ariel Navon (Ori Hizkiah), an art-school dropout and cartoonist, spots a strange flash of blue light emanating from an apparently vacant building. His investigation yields an encounter with famed modern-day prophet Rabbi Knafo (Yehuda Levi). Is Knafo being held against his will? And who would do such a thing? Cartoons come to life when nobody’s looking, and conspiracies keep being conspired when nobody’s looking, as Woody Allen’s films vie with shades of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union in the influence stakes.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (9:00pm, Mon 17th Feb, Cineworld)

Irish director Ruairí Robinson makes his feature bow with this oblique tale of life on Mars. Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai and Olivia Williams are crew-members on the first manned mission to Mars. All goes well, until the final day when an exciting discovery is made a few miles from base. Obviously, unlike Antarctic scientists who begin each whiteout season with a viewing of The Thing, none of these astronauts had seen Alien. After an officer goes missing collecting evidence of Martian life the crew are soon violently fighting for life.

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BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL (AVANT L’HIVER) (6:15pm, Tue 18th Feb, Lighthouse)

Daniel Auteuil is a respected surgeon, Kristin Scott Thomas cooks and gardens exquisitely, together, they bring stability to their extended family and community of friends. But the passion for Paul of Leïla Bekhti brings chaos. Novelist/film-maker Philippe Claudel’s second film opens as a Gallic take on Fatal Attraction, with a nod to the great Claude Chabrol, before morphing into something original and passionate as Claudel extends the strong creative partnership he began with Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long and extracts a superb, poignant performance from Auteuil.

MOOD INDIGO (L’ECUME DES JOURS) (8:45pm, Tue 18th, Lighthouse)

Director Michel Gondry adapts Boris Vian’s cult novel Froth on the Daydream with Populaire star Romain Duris as a Bertie Wooster type kept out of trouble by his own personal Jeeves, Omar Sy (The Untouchables). Duris decides he needs a girlfriend, and promptly meets Audrey Tatou. But Raymond Queneau described the 1947 novel as ‘the most heartbreakingly poignant modern love story’. Gondry’s lo-tech effects nail the writer’s surreal flights of fancy and wall-to-wall puns, but worsening health and financial crises make this a notably darker and more melancholy rom-com than usual.

CAS & DYLAN (6:30pm, Wed 19th Feb, Cineworld)
Before Jaws Richard Drefyuss starred in classic Canadian film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, now he makes a memorable journey across Canada as dying Winnipeg surgeon Cas in Jason Priestley’s touching road movie. Cas crosses paths with Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Dylan, a free-wheeling chain-smoking kleptomaniac – and finds himself fleeing the scene of a crime with her in a stolen VW Beetle. Jessie Gabe’s wise and funny script gradually reveals the truth about the pair, while Dreyfuss Fassbenders thru his best role in years as the straitlaced doctor belatedly letting rip.

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UNDER THE SKIN (8:45pm, Wed 19th Feb, Cineworld)

Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer returns after a long absence with a sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as a classic femme fatale in the film noir tradition, down to the plump red lips and deep fur coat, but with a refrigerated nothingness at her core. Because she is in fact an alien who takes amorous Glaswegian men into her van turns them into Scotch broth. Glazer renders the Scottish landscape as alien: dawn mist rolls across lochs like curls of space dust, while Johansson has won surprised praise for her wordless performance.

THE CONGRESS (8:45pm, Wed 19th Feb, Lighthouse)

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Forman returns with a meta-textual Hollywood satire, inspired by Stanislav Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress, starring Robin Wright as herself, which morphs midway into a full blown sci-fi cartoon, but only to cut even closer to the philosophical bone in its investigation of femininity, fantasy and virtual reality. Actress Robin Wright is washed up, but Miramount executive Danny Huston has a proposition that will guarantee her riches for life. He wants to scan her and take full rights to virtual Robin Wright. But she must never act again…

AFTERNOON DELIGHT (9:00pm, Thu 20th Feb, Cineworld)

Writer-director Jill Soloway (United States of Tara) makes her feature film debut with a raunchy mixture of comedy and drama as thirtysomething mum Kathryn Hahn tries to spice up life with husband Josh Radnor at a Los Angeles strip club, only to develop an unhealthy fixation on young stripper Juno Temple. Desperate to escape the numbingly dull preschool parents in her neighbourhood, she invites her to become live-in nanny. Kathryn Hahn was very good in support in Revolutionary Road, and this seems like a more comedic take on delusions of grandeur and escape.

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THE DOUBLE (6:30pm, Fri 21st Feb, Cineworld)

IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade served notice of his directorial abilities with 2011’s Submarine so this second feature is eagerly awaited, but has already divided opinion at previous festivals. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella is relocated to anonymous office bureaucracy as Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon, a belittled worker bee who’s shunned by the elfin photocopy girl Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). And then a freight-train of confidence named James, also played by Eisenberg, starts work – instantly winning over the boss and charming Hannah to the horror of Simon who is the only who has noticed his doppelganger.

THE ZERO THEOREM (9:00pm, Fri 21st Feb, Cineworld)

Allegedly the final part of a dystopian trilogy comprising Brazil and 12 Monkeys, in which case God knows how many trilogies Hitchcock inadvertently knocked out… Christoph Waltz is an angst-ridden computer programmer tasked with proving the titular theorem, and thereby revealing the meaning of life. Anybody shouting ‘42’ will be ejected. His quest is supported by Mélanie Thierry and hampered by his supervisor David Thewlis and Matt Damon’s Management. Tilda Swinton scene-steals as an AI psychiatrist, and Gilliam’s inimitable visual style of odd angles, dizzy colours, and surrealism are on full display.

November 2, 2012

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part VI

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

Star Search ’86 aka Hannah and Her Sisters

With apologies to Donnie Darko for that title, there is a scene in Woody Allen’s classic serious comedy Hannah and Her Sisters which really does double as a talent-spotting showcase. The scene in question is our introduction to Allen’s hypochondriac and endlessly harassed TV comedy writer/producer. As he walks along a corridor he is put upon by a remarkable set of actors who weren’t big names when the film was made but who would become well-known, even if some of them took their time about it. Allen has run into trouble over a sketch and the difficulty is being explained to him by Christian Clemenson, yes, the one lawyer capable of out-odd-balling Denny Crane in Boston Legal. Walking but not talking alongside Allen and Clemenson is one of the comedy show’s performers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, just a few years before Seinfeld begins. Shouting advice at Allen is Julie Kavner, a few years away from voicing Marge Simpson. At the end of the walk a pre-Coens John Turturro explodes into the shot to complain about his PLO sketch being cut without anyone consulting him about it first, and then finally Allen meets the man from standards and practices who cut the sketch everyone is so concerned about; and the man is JT Walsh, in his only scene in the film, already starting to ply his trademark obstructive man in suit trade. It may have taken some of these actors longer to make their mark than others but boy does Woody have an eye for casting future stars or what?

Fassbendering Ahoy?

It’s been a while since I wrote about this blog’s signature concept of Fassbendering, but two recent pieces of production news indicate that 2013 may be a vintage year for it. Lenny Abrahamson isn’t a director you’d associate with comedy but his next project is co-written by the journalist Jon Ronson, a man with an eye for the absurd having written The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test, and Peter Straughan who adapted Ronson’s non-fiction book Goats for the screen. Their original script Frank is a comedy about a wannabe musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender). Shooting starts once Fassbender wraps Ridley Scott’s latest disaster movie The Counsellor. It’s about time Fassbender played a rock star when you think about it, few roles offer such potential for enjoying oneself far too much while working. Another two men who understand Fassbendering are reuniting after the success of The Guard as principal photography has begun in Co. Sligo on John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, with Brendan Gleeson as a priest intent on making the world a better place who is continually shocked by the spiteful inhabitants of his small country town. After being threatened during confession, he must battle the dark forces closing in around him. Among his unruly flock in this blackly comic drama are Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Pat Shortt, David Wilmot, and … yep, Domhnall Gleeson; whose impressive 2012 CV saw him recently named as one of Variety’s ’10 Actors to Watch’.

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