Talking Movies

July 28, 2015

The Shadow of a Gunman

Director Wayne Jordan returns to the Abbey after 2012’s The Plough and the Stars for another summer production of a venerable Sean O’Casey Dublin play.


Donal Davoren (Mark O’Halloran) is trying to write poetry in a Dublin tenement in May 1920. A task rendered nigh impossible by his talkative roommate Seamus Shields (David Ganly), and constant interruptions from a never-ending stream of visitors. There are Shield’s Republican associate Maguire (Muiris Crowley), hated landlord Mulligan (Gerard Byrne), and fellow tenants, the excitable Tommy Owens (Lloyd Cooney) and the flirtatious Minnie Powell (Amy McAllister). And that’s just for starters. Over the course of a long day Davoren gets no verse composed as he finds himself implored by Mrs Henderson (Catherine Walsh) to stand up for put-upon Mr Gallogher (Malcolm Adams) at the Republican courts in his capacity as an IRA gunman on the run. Davoren is happy to play along with this glamorous misunderstanding, until his masquerade suddenly turns all too real with searches, bullets, and bombs…

The Shadow of a Gunman’s two acts are played through without an interval. As so often with Jordan’s work it’s hard to discern the artistic imperative of that decision. It seems impossible for Jordan to inspire negative reviews, but this showcases his consistent flaws as much as it does his trademarks; down to O’Halloran reprising Jordan’s Twelfth Night tic of eschewing socks with shoes. Sarah Bacon’s tenement set has impressive depth, but it has none of the grimy realism of Bob Crowley’s 2011 Juno and the Paycock creation, and it seems to belong to a much later time-period, as does her brightly coloured short dress for Minnie Powell. Perhaps then this production is meant to be a critique of fellow-travellers in the years before the Troubles kicked off, with Davoren a nationalist who talks the talk but shrinks from walking the walk. No. But then sets and costumes have made illusory promises or served one joke in Jordan’s oeuvre before.

The costume is the first step to transforming the confident survivor O’Casey wrote into McAllister’s interpretation of Minnie as wide-eyed innocent. Surrounding her Crowley camps it up as Maguire, and Cooney is nearly a teenager in a Martin McDonagh Leenane play; giving the idea that fighting for anything is a bad joke. Ganly eventually hits his stride as Shields, but it’s hard, after Alice in Funderland, not to feel Jordan is laughing at religion in its own right when it comes to Shields’ religiosity, rather than laughing with anger at the hypocritical use of religion as O’Casey intended. O’Halloran plays Davoren’s frustration well, but his exaggerated movements seem a bit too much commedia dell’arte elsewhere; this is not a role akin to his scene-stealing turn in Hay Fever after all.

Gunman, courtesy of Mel Mercier’s impressive sound design, ends with a bang; but this is a consistently misfiring production.


The Shadow of a Gunman continues its run at the Abbey until August 1st.


October 16, 2013

Castles, Candles and Kubrick

Kubrick on set of Barry Lyndon

All Stanley Kubrick fans should move the dial to Newstalk this weekend for a documentary about the truncated Irish shoot of period epic Barry Lyndon.

As part of the autumn season of documentary radio on Newstalk 106-108 Pavel Barter produces this look at the story behind the making of Stanley Kubrick’s period adaptation Barry Lyndon in Ireland 40 years ago.

In the summer of 1973, director Stanley Kubrick arrived in Ireland to make his latest film Barry Lyndon. Having run massively over-schedule and over-budget with his space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick had followed that sci-fi folly up with a cheap and nasty quickie, A Clockwork Orange, which had proven massively controversial; its ultraviolence and rape coming in the same year as Dirty Harry and Straw Dogs. Now Kubrick was ready to take on Thackeray’s novel with the unlikely personage of Ryan O’Neal as the titular hero. All seemed to be going well as Kubrick shot in the Irish countryside with hundreds of costumed extras. But on an overcast night in January 1974, the director fled Ireland on a ferry from Dun Laoghaire. Within 48 hours the entire production had also abandoned their stations.

Castles, Candles and Kubrick tells, for the first time, the story behind the making of Barry Lyndon in Ireland, featuring interviews with cast and crew from the film. What role did Ireland play in the production of Barry Lyndon? Did Kubrick’s preceding film, Clockwork Orange, affect the production? It was widely rumoured he fled Ireland after a death threat which also caused him to withdraw A Clockwork Orange from circulation in Britain and Ireland until its posthumous re-release in 2000; a move that unjustly fostered its reputation as a great classic lost to censorship. It’s equally rumoured that he misinterpreted the death threat, which was from the IRA; enraged at the sight of hundreds of extras dressed as British soldiers in deepest Tipperary. Hopefully Barter’s documentary will get to the bottom of these urban legends.

Castles, Candles and Kubrick features contributions from Brian W. Cook (The Wicker Man, The Shining), Luke Quigley (Braveheart, In The Name of The Father), Terry Clegg (Gandhi, Out of Africa), Patti Podesta (Memento), and Gay Hamilton (The Duellists). They’ll shed light on working with the notorious perfectionist. Kubrick surpassed Hitchcock in the endless self-promotion stakes because he only directed 13 films, a fraction of Hitchcock’s output. Kubrick did endless takes without explaining what he wanted done differently, and shot every one of his few film with emotionless Ophuls glides, regardless of whether it suited that particular subject matter; yet his very reclusiveness and these eccentricities in shooting made him revered. Why is Barry Lyndon considered the greatest movie ever by fellow directors such as Martin Scorsese and Lars Von Trier? Tune in and find out.

Castles, Candles and Kubrick will air on Newstalk 106-108 on Saturday October 19th at 7:00am, with a repeat airing on Sunday October 20th at 6:00pm.

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.

October 6, 2011

Juno and the Paycock

This Abbey co-production with Southbank’s National Theatre of Sean O’Casey’s 1924 classic is a star-studded flagship show for this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.

Ciaran Hinds and Risteard Cooper are fantastic as O’Casey’s trademark self-deluding male comedy double-act. Hinds is the self-proclaimed nautical veteran ‘Captain’ Boyle, a work-shy layabout who once crewed a boat to Liverpool and now infuriates his long-suffering wife Juno (Sinead Cusack) by continually carousing with ne’er-do-well neighbour Joxer (Cooper) and pleading mysterious pains in his legs whenever the prospect of a job appears. Tony-winning designer Bob Crowley has created a startlingly realistic decaying tenement set, with its own decrepit roof, and rooms partially glimpsed thru open doors as well as an expansive window-ledge just visible off-stage. Director Howard Davies exploits this grimy set with rain sound effects, and increasingly bleak lighting and sparse furnishing, to heighten O’Casey’s successive disillusioning of the audience as he skewers reverence for institutions including the Church, the IRA, and Trade Unions.

Davies though also handles the slapstick elements of the play better than any previous production I’ve ever seen. A moustachioed Hinds is fantastic in a role that combines a lot of hilariously self-deceiving bombast with scary moments of self-righteous fury. He makes his eyes bulge in terror at the prospect of being trapped in a job, hesitates infinitely over giving Joxer a sausage for breakfast when he realises with horror it’s bigger than the one he’s already put on his own plate, and excels at the physical business of throwing a reluctant Joxer out the window before desperately trying to hide the evidence of their breakfast when he hears Juno’s steps on the stairs. Cooper is every inch his equal in a performance that likewise mixes wonderful comedy with a harder edge. Joxer is the kind of fair-weather friend who will loyally back up all your most nonsensical poses, especially when you start contradicting yourself, but who revels in your misfortunes behind your back and would literally steal your last coin…

Sinead Cusack anchors the play emotionally as the embattled matriarch battling the equivalent fecklessness of her husband’s irresponsibility, daughter’s Trade Union enthusiasms, and son’s IRA principles. Her affecting displays of grief and empathy are O’Casey’s redemptive hope. I’ve long complained the supporting parts in Juno are mere ciphers, with crippled IRA veteran Johnny Boyle being the worst offender. Clare Dunne as Mary Boyle and Nick Lee (a dead ringer for Cripple of Inishmaan‘s Tadhg Murphy) as Theosophist boyfriend Charlie Bentham milk some laughs, as does Janet Moran’s saucy Masie Madigan, but the supporting players could never prevent this play belonging to the central trio. Juno’s famous exit line offers the stoicism of Chekhov’s Three Sisters peroration, but O’Casey purposely ends with low comedy instead as the Captain and Joxer stagger back into a now empty room.

It may be over-reaching to see in O’Casey’s presentation of a family in inescapable poverty who are magically granted wealth only to have it cruelly taken away again not just subversion of 1920s audience expectations but also a type of Ireland’s fate in the last 25 years, but it is not over-reaching to say this production demands attendance.


Juno and the Paycock continues its run at the Abbey until November 5th.

September 21, 2011

‘No Messages’ Needs Your Money!

Do you want to fund a really good short film? Then click on this link,, and take your own tiny step into movie moguldom…

Are you always complaining that you want to see an Irish film with no rural angst, no repression by the Catholic Church, no appearances by the IRA, no child abuse in DeValera’s Ireland, and no deprived misery in the housing estates the Celtic Tiger forgot? Then this is a chance for you to put your money where your mouth is. Set in The Thomas House – Dublin 8, No Messages follows one day in the life of Dave, a barman who’s stuck in emotional limbo. He’s expecting an important phone call but arrives at work to discover that not only has he left his phone at home but his boss is asleep behind the bar. So begins a long day of hangover cures, irritating regulars who have more than a few screws loose, and attempts to keep the toilets ‘for customer use only’. And while Dave checks and rechecks his voicemail from the pub phone he finds that sometimes when you’re drifting aimlessly that much-needed kick up the arse can come when you least expect it.

No Messages is what one might call a long short film, if that makes sense. It’s not based around one clever idea which is worked out in three minutes or two intersecting plots that link up after eight minutes. I’ve read the script which is very funny, sweetly heartfelt and develops flesh and blood characters within a prolonged slice of life. It clocks in at 20 pages which is too long for traditional funding routes, and that’s where comes in… Many talented people are willing to work for nothing, but there are a lot of things that can’t be scrounged so all the money raised will be used to rent the necessary camera and sound equipment, feed the hard-working no-pay crew and pay for the rest of the shoot’s expenses – including insurance, transport costs and marketing. After the film is shot the remaining money will be used to pay for post-production which will include renting an edit suite, getting a colour grade and sound mix done and also producing promotional DVDs and Blu-Rays to send out to festivals and to funders, i.e. anyone who puts up money thru The film will be submitted to all the major Irish film festivals, including Galway, Cork and Foyle as well as key international festivals.

The shoot will take place in late October and finish post-production by January 2012. The premiere will be held in a Dublin city centre location in February 2012. If you receive an invite as part of your reward you’ll be contacted by email with all the details of the screening. Cian McGarrigle, the writer/director, has previously directed short films, music videos and advertisements and is an award-winning playwright. Eoin Lynch will produce the film for Tengger Productions and the lead role will be played by Rory Connolly, one fifth of comedy team Diet of Worms, who has also appeared in the play Strollinstown and the forthcoming CULT.

Dream Big,

July 6, 2011


It’s impossible for me to review Translations without first confessing that I know the script inside out, having both studied it at college and then taught it…

1833 in Friel’s eternal Donegal setting of Baile Beag finds a hedge school run by drunken master Hugh (Denis Conway) and his lame son Manus (Aaron Monaghan), specialising in Latin and Greek, being menaced by the arrival of a new English speaking National School, specialising in English. This off-stage menace is accompanied by the on-stage arrival of English sappers conducting an ordnance survey of the area for military purposes. But, as their work proceeds with the aid of Hugh’s other son Owen (Barry Ward) returned from Dublin, one of the British soldiers Yolland (Tim Delap) begins to question the morality of his task, even as he falls in love with local girl Maire (Aoife McMahon). The conflict between high civilisation and base commerce, Irish and English, and the noble rhetoric of progress and its low activities of expropriation, are all layered around these emotional conflicts. Maire’s love triangle with Manus and Yolland is very obviously a choice between a maimed native culture and a confident foreign culture…

Naomi Wilkinson’s set design heavily emphasises the squalor of this hedge-school, while Joan O’Clery’s costumes fit in with this approach by clothing the students in tattered earth tones, with the rebellious Maire in bright yellow and Hugh sporting a burnt orange jacket, while Hugh’s successful son Owen returns dressed in a spiffy blue overcoat, closer to the English military’s colour-scheme. Director Conall Morrison, who I’m still wary of on account of his late 1990s adaptation of Tarry Flynn, predictably brings sauciness to Friel’s comedy in the opening act. In the second act, however, he changes gears as the blue sky above the barn-set darkens, so that the rain sound effect heightens a chillingly conveyed sense of doom that anticipates the impending Famine. Rory Nolan as Doalty and Janet Moran as Bridget carry the bulk of Morrison’s slapstick; Nolan does a glorious mime of the English sappers’ baffled reaction to their ‘malfunctioning’ equipment, a result of his mischief; but they also imbue the off-stage Donnelly twins, often interpreted as proto-IRA figures in their campaign against the British presence, with the appropriate menace by their subdued reaction to their names being mentioned.

The inevitable Aaron Monaghan is very sympathetic as the brother whose half-hearted resistance to the British breaks down under personal contact, even as Ward convincingly travels the opposite arc as Owen grasps the political implications of his linguistic ‘collaboration’ with Yolland. McMahon is surprisingly flirtatious as Maire rather than simply determined, and there is a level of anger by Hugh towards her dismissal of his classics that seems alien to the script, as is his appearance as utterly decrepit. It seems absurd to accuse someone with an Irish Times Best Actor Theatre Award of lacking the necessary stature for a role, but Denis Conway is no Ray MacAnally, and he fails to dominate the stage as Hugh should. As a result Hugh’s final speeches to a drenched Maire, which should be tragic, raised some laughs. Conway effectively mixes bombast with moments of self-awareness, but if Hugh’s paraphrasing of George Steiner’s linguistic theories do not grip as the central statement of the self-defeating cultural delusions that colonisation can foist on a materially defeated civilisation then the focus of the play becomes diffuse.

This is well worth seeing, but there are quibbles…


Translations continues its run at the Abbey until the 13th of August.

May 25, 2011

Hex to Jonah Hex: The Rise of Fassbender

I realise with a shock that I’ve been neglecting Michael Fassbender in this blog, so it’s only right to devote my 100th blog post to the man from Kerry.

Fassbender has risen in just seven years from playing the villain in a Sky One show to playing the nascent super-villain in a keenly anticipated summer blockbuster. Next week will see a piece focusing on my concept of Fassbendering, but this week let’s focus on how he made this journey. Fassbender had appeared in Band of Brothers but arguably first truly came to public consciousness as the actor in that famous Guinness ad at the end of 2003 who dived off the Cliffs of Moher and swam to New York to say “Sorry” to his brother for hitting on the brother’s girlfriend. Characteristically Fassbender ended the ad by grinning and appearing to hit on the brother’s girlfriend again. He then played the resident Big Bad in Sky One’s Buffy homage/rip-off Hex. As fallen angel Azazeal he impressed with dark charisma, cut-glass English accent, and the distinct vibe that he was enjoying this part far too much.

2004 also saw him star in Canadian TV movie A Bear Called Winnie where, as a compassionate vet in the Canadian Army who rescued an orphaned bear cub en route to Britain for WWI, he showed an admirable ability to goof around with the adorable pet bear that would be immortalised as Winnie the Pooh. He then played the first of his continuing series of historical figures in Gunpowder, Treason and Plot as Guy Fawkes, and ended 2004 in Rupert Everett’s BBC TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, displaying his fine ability to be ambiguous as the murder suspect that Holmes insists is a killer despite all evidence clearing him. He then had a showy turn as he smoked and drank his way thru After the Funeral in 2006 as a dissolute possible murderer in ITV’s Poirot, before making the jump from TV movie to actual movie, and London to Hollywood; notably later than his contemporaries Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy.

Fassbender’s ridiculous role as Stelios in Zack Snyder’s bombastic 300 was where things really caught fire. As the film opens with the 300 marching off to battle Fassbender is already grinning, perhaps because he’s realised just how flashy this supporting role is… Stelios is the Spartan who jumps in slow motion to chop off the arm of the Persian who threatens the Spartans with a thousand nation army, “Our arrows will blot out the sun”. Fassbender delivers the famous riposte in a supremely nonchalant manner, and later forms one half of a Spartan Legolas/Gimili style partnership in mayhem and has a slo-mo fight alongside Astinos where they attack and sever Persian limbs left, right and centre. When the Persian mystics are throwing bombs it is Fassbender who runs out, catches one and throws it back, then shelters behind his shield as the arsenal of bombs explodes. Who does something awesome in the denouement to enable Leonidas be even more awesome? Fassbender, of course. Who holds hands with Leonidas for their butch last lines? Fassbender. This is the kind of thing that gets you noticed when your film is an unexpected massive hit.

2008 saw him tackle two more historical figures and also contribute an upsetting turn to stark English horror Eden Lake. I reviewed that film and argued for it as a socio-economic horror as Fassbender and Kelly Reilly’s polite middle-class London couple travel to an idyllic camping spot only to be mercilessly harassed by hoodie-wearing teenagers who steal their jeep, leading to a nigh unwatchable scene where Fassbender’s innocent victim comes up against the gang’s barbed wire and box-cutters. If Fassbender had undercut his 300 image by playing sacrificial lamb to Kelly Reilly’s survivor type he made up for in Channel 4’s Civil War mini-series The Devil’s Whore where he scooped the most dashing role, coveted by Dominic West, as the Levellers’ leader Thomas Rainsborough. He made Rainsborough so charismatic that you could understand why people ignored the contradiction of an aristocrat leading a prototypical socialist movement. The series itself lost momentum after Rainsborough’s tragic demise, which not only underscored Fassbender’s outshining of West and John Simm as leading man, but ironically hammered home the loss to history of the progressive ideas of the Levellers; stifled by Cromwell only to return as demands by the Chartists in the 1840s and actions by Clement Attlee in the 1940s.

Fassbender combined elements of those roles as sacrificial lamb and charismatic leader for his tour de force performance as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s debut film Hunger. I regard Hunger as a biopic so utterly oblique as to de-politicise its subject; indeed in its shocking single depiction of just what it is the IRA does it invalidates all accusations that McQueen and co-writer Enda Walsh are somehow ‘fellow travellers’. Turner Prize-winner McQueen reinvented the possibilities of cinema with a film that could almost be a video installation on how the human body slowly declines into death, and how beauty can be found in the mundane. Fassbender was luminous in his one lengthy scene with dialogue, where he argues with Liam Cunningham’s priest, forcing you to appreciate both his point of view and why men would follow this man out on hunger strike and die for him. Fassbender also emulated his acting hero Daniel Day-Lewis as he lost 14 kilos while playing the part and weighed just 59 kilos by the end of shooting. Writing about it at the time I praised Fassbender’s “awesome commitment to the part in the third act as he just wastes away in front of your eyes. This is a mesmerising performance of insane dedication that should see Fassbender go on to even juicier roles.”

And go on to juicier roles he did, as 2009 saw Fassbender work with two auteurs, and also Joel Schumacher. Tarantino’s riotous rewriting of history, Inglourious Basterds, oddly enough saw Fassbender being one of the few people playing things straight in his supporting role as Lt. Archie Hicox. As a former film critic dispatched behind enemy lines, most of his lines were delivered (allegedly in a Kerry accent initially) in his second language, German, bar glorious exceptions like “There’s a special place reserved in Hell for people who waste good scotch”. He then starred as Connor opposite newcomer Kate Jarvis as Mia in Andrea Arnold’s kitchen sink drama Fish Tank. A bracingly abrasive picture of life on an Essex council estate punctuated by moments of amazing lyrical beauty, Fassbender’s character opens up possibilities for his girlfriend’s two daughters in a stunning pastoral sequence where he gives them the attention and affection their mother denies them, and encourages Mia to channel her simmering rage at her life into focused attempts to escape it thru professional dancing. Arnold has made the most layered use of the possibilities of Fassbender’s ready smile, as his grinning Connor appears at first as the perfect surrogate father before she traumatically reverses that winning charm. This disquieting role emphasised Fassbender’s freedom from leading men’s crippling need to be loved in every role. Schumacher’s Blood Creek meanwhile may well be remembered eventually as the film where Superman and Magneto clash, but that would require that someone in the world sees it first.

In 2010 he reunited with both Dominic West and Liam Cunningham for Neil Marshall’s nonsensical historical British action film Centurion, which all concerned presumably filed under ‘guilty pleasure’. He ended the year in a nonsensical historical American action film as henchman Burke in Jonah Hex. His first appearance in the trailer saw him grinning manically while setting fire to a barn with someone in it, but sadly the film was shredded from its initial intentions. One hopes that Fassbender may eventually get to properly work with the madmen/auteurs behind the Crank films. And that leads us to right now, one week before the release of X-Men: First Class

So, why is Fassbender a personal hero? Obviously some of it has to do with Fassbendering, but it’s also because Fassbender is a genuinely talented actor with an immense range as well as a charming whimsicality. He can play comedy and tragedy, heroes and villains, equally well, and move from blockbuster to art-house, whimsy to avant-garde, with ease. His part as the younger version of Ian McKellen’s Magneto, as he begins the slow and half-justified decent into super-villainy, is one of the performances I’m anticipating most this year. X-Men: First Class, and Soderbergh’s Haywire in August, as well as Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Promotheus next year, should catapult Fassbender into the genuine leading man status that Colin Farrell so narrowly missed out on through choosing big-name directors working on vanity projects rather than good scripts. Fassbender in addition appears to be about to make the leap without sacrificing his ability to take on interesting roles in smaller films; with roles as Carl Jung (his latest historical figure) in Cronenberg’s drama A Dangerous Method, Rochester in a pared down Jane Eyre, and the lead in a new Steve McQueen film Shame, all of which are due to be released in the same period as the Vaughn, Soderbergh and Scott blockbusters mentioned above.

The Rise of Fassbender is only just beginning…

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