Talking Movies

May 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

If not Lazenby, then who?

Almost anyone. But seriously, folks. There were any number of actors in England in 1968 who could have done a better job of picking up the keys to Sean Connery’s Aston Martin. A three-cornered discussion with Friedrich Bagel and The Engineer produced this shortlist of contenders:

Rod Taylor, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, Oliver Reed, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Terence Stamp, Anthony Hopkins

Patrick McGoohan, Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lee, Nicol Williamson, David Warner, Edward Fox

Now, not all of these people would have been asked, in order to keep the budget down. And some of them would likely have refused (contemptuously in some cases) had they been asked. But Sean Connery was not unknown when he was cast. Far from it, he had already appeared in Darby O’Gill and the Little People and his supporting role in The Longest Day would have been appreciated by British TV audiences who, between 1959 and 1961, had seen him as Count Vronsky, Hotspur, Macbeth and Alexander the Great. He was not an unknown, he was quite well known to British audiences as a leading man playing historic roles. Lazenby by contrast was quite well known to British audiences for advertising Fry’s chocolate bars.

The critical rehabilitation narrative

I’ve been thinking recently about what we might dub the critical rehabilitation narrative. Nothing seems to please some critics more than to discover neglected masterpieces, to rescue from the discard bin gems that were unappreciated at the time. The only problem is sometimes the critics are very pleased with themselves, their wider critical narrative powers along, and it’s only a minor detail that the film in question is still rubbish. That’s not to say that it is wrong to revisit films and see if they were misjudged; after all Fight Club suffered hugely from being released so soon after Columbine. But sometimes there is much to be said for reading the original reviews and getting a bracing perspective, like disinterring The Cabinet of Dr Caligari from the reverence of generations of film students and discovering in Peter Gay’s Weimar Culture that its own writers disowned the finished film for changes made to its finale which they regarded as dangerously reversing its political message, and doing so at a time that imperilled the nascent republic. Or realising that Matthew Modine saying recently that Full Metal Jacket has aged better than other Vietnam films because it’s finale of urban insurgency could be in Iraq only proves the point of the objections made by critics on release. Because of the WB indulging Kubrick’s power-tripping laziness he had departed from the novel’s jungle war conclusion to instead depict the (easily manufactured in England) ruined city of Hue, because he couldn’t be bothered leaving England. And it would be hard to easily manufacture in England a jungle war. Just as well Vietnam wasn’t noted for being a JUNGLE WAR. Revolution was reviled on release and exiled Pacino to Broadway. But Revolution is an unfocused film of baffling decisions, like shooting it entirely in England and not having Annie Lennox sing, rather than an outright atrocity. Watching its depiction of the start of the American Revolution, the mob bullying, the expropriation, the self-interested and abrasive self-righteousness is oddly reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago’s portrayal of the Bolsheviks. It’s hard not to think that this enraged American critics at the time, who sublimated that rage into attacks from other angles. And yet the final minutes of Revolution feature a truly astonishing tracking shot, a technical marvel and a triumph of production design, that I have never ever heard anyone praise or even mention. If you can’t do the hard work of salvaging the good from amidst the bad then what is the point of critical rehabilitation?

April 29, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LI

As the title suggests, so forth.

“It’s mandatory advisory, but it’s not compulsory”

And we’re back to this unloved Fine Gael gibberish again. Leo Varadkar, who’d like to remind you a few more times that he’s a medical doctor, thinks the science is uncertain when it comes to masks. It is not. The Atlantic tried to disentangle the miasma of confusion and scepticism around wearing a face mask. For some baffling reason it’s being led by the WHO, one hopes not simply for political reasons to avoid agreeing with Taiwan. There are two distinct concepts here that are endlessly conflated – ingress and egress. To prevent oneself getting infected you need medical-grade PPE, but to stop oneself infecting everyone else you simply need a cotton bandanna. A cotton mask will reduce virus particles emitted from your mouth by 99%, quite obviously reducing your chances of infecting anyone. “Models show that if 80% of people wear masks that are 60% effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease”. Sure, there are other factors at play, like social distancing and demographics, but “in every region that has adopted widespread mask-wearing, case and death rates have been reduced within a few weeks”. So the science here is uncertain in the same sense that George Bush Jr used to insist the science was uncertain on global warming. But whatever, just advise people to wear masks, and then watch so many Mike Pences float about the place boasting “I’m not infected”, oblivious to the fact that you can be infected after taking a test clearing you, the virus takes days to manifest, and you can be asymptomatic.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time

We are now well into the fifth week of Status Burgundy lockdown. It is clear that the ‘caretaker’ government is softening us up by leak after leak for an extension for another 2 weeks, and adding insult to injury by blaming it on our complacency over social distancing rather than their strategic blindness over nursing homes being an obvious locus for COVID-19. But given the hysteria over policing this Bank Holiday does anyone seriously think that we will not be in lockdown for the June Bank Holiday too? Come Friday, Varadkar and Harris will trot out and regretfully inform us that because we got complacent, and our lax social distancing (inexplicably) caused a spike in transmission in nursing homes, that we will have to do penance for another two weeks. When those two weeks are nearly up, they will appear again, and announce another two week extension to take the June Bank Holiday out of play, lest all our good work be undone by dispersal to the seaside, and make this seem like a moment of buoyant optimism – this is how we beat COVID-19, can’t you see it? can’t you see it? One might think simply making it mandatory that everybody wear a mask at all times might allow us out of this national house arrest of not being allowed stray further than 2km on foot. One might equally think that a government clearly rejected by the people should not be making such consequential decisions for those people, all the while calling for national unity while openly disdaining 1/4 of voters. One would apparently be wrong on both fronts.

September 30, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XX

As the title suggests, so forth.

Whither Fassbender?

Things have not been going well for Michael Fassbender of late. 2015 was something of an annus mirabilis with the glorious offbeat Western Slow West, a cinematic and brutal Macbeth, and the Sorkin/Boyle dream-team walk-and-talk of Steve Jobs. And that coming on the heels of 2014’s feel-good time-travel blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future Past and eccentric musical comedy Frank. And then everything seemed to go sideways in 2016. X-Men: Apocalypse was an unmitigated disaster, gangster film Trespass Against Us and period drama The Light Between Oceans failed to find even an art-house audience, and video game romp Assassin’s Creed, which he also produced and was intended as the ‘one for them’ for Macbeth, backfired spectacularly. Then came 2017. Song to Song only fuelled the flames of Malick fatigue where it was released, horror sequel Alien: Covenant infuriated everyone despite his entertainingly ridiculous turn as two androids, and Scandi-noir The Snowman was crippled from the start by production ending before it had, um, quite ended. Either of these years would be an annus horribilis. To have one after the other spectacularly bad luck. Almost of Jude Law 2004 proportions. Since then Fassbender has only made one film – X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Sigh. As of today Fassbender is filming a part in Kung Fury 2. A sequel to a 2015 short film. And this may well be merely a glorious cameo. There is nothing else confirmed for the man from Kerry. How can he turn this around?

October 14, 2018

Macbeth

Director Geoff O’Keefe reunites with actor Neill Fleming, following his memorable Claudius in the Mill’s 2016 Hamlet, for an eerie take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

Civil War rages in Scotland. King Duncan (Damien Devaney) is only kept on the throne by the bloody valour of the Thane of Glamis, Macbeth (Neill Fleming). But when three witches prophesy that Macbeth shall be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland hereafter fatal ambition seizes the mind of both his wife (Nichola MacEvilly) and he. Obstacles in his path are Duncan, and his son Malcolm (Matthew O’Brien); and obstacles to security as King are friend Banquo (Andrew Kenny), and his son Fleance (Eanna Hardwicke). And having filed his mind for the sake of his ambition all morality and sanity go by the wayside for Macbeth…

Gerard Bourke’s set and Kris Mooney’s lighting design create a powerfully eerie atmosphere. A skeleton and a decaying body hang over the stage emphasising the brutal nature of this Dark Ages kingdom, while Olga Criado Monleon’s costume design of flowing robes with all-encompassing hoods for the witches unsex them, allowing a terrific initial jolt when they seem to exit on one side and immediately appear on the other by magic, and also continually allowing them to prowl in the shadows of a stage replete with nooks and crannies. Their constant surveillance of the action makes them appear like irresponsible Greek gods toying their chosen mortals, and allows a terrific interval when they close the curtains with some theatrical magic.

If Michael Fassbender’s cinematic interpretation seemed to focus on the line ‘Full of scorpions is my mind’, Fleming’s turn here seemed to pivot on his agonised complaint to Lady M, ‘I have filed my mind’. MacEvilly’s Lady Macbeth is wonderfully contemptuous of Macbeth’s weakness during the feast, and in her sleepwalking seems less to be plagued by guilt as to be reciting both sides of her fight with Macbeth for his blundering with the knives. But despite the darkness O’Keefe finds some unexpected comedy in the text. Devaney’s Porter is played as still reeking of drink, and Macbeth arrives as if after carousing, concluding the recitations of ominous portents with a tart ‘It was a rough night’. There is also a delirious moment where Macbeth wheels around during the feast to check if Banquo is still there precisely when Banquo has melted away temporarily, the better to appal him later.

Playing Shakespeare with a cast of nine requires much doubling, and bar the predictably Lynchian moment when Devaney’s Porter appears right after the murder of Devaney’s Duncan, it works very well. Ailbhe Cowley very effectively switches between Lady Ross and Lady Macbeth’s servant with quick changes of hair, costume, and accent, while Kenny makes his doctor unrecognisable from his Banquo. Jed Murray’s imposing Macduff is a gruffer character than we’re used to, and his sword-fight with Macbeth ends with a piece of derring-do that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood swashbuckler.

The gruesome coup de grace may not work for all, but this is a fast-moving production of much dark magic.

4/5

Macbeth continues its run at the Mill Theatre until the 26th of October.

October 16, 2016

Hamlet

Director Geoff O’Keeffe fashions an intriguing interpretation of Claudius in an energetic production of Hamlet at the Mill Theatre Dundrum.

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Prince Hamlet (Shane O’Regan) is in mourning for his father, Old Hamlet. But the rest of the court is celebrating as Old Hamlet’s brother Claudius (Neill Fleming) has succeeded not only to the throne, but also to the royal bed, unexpectedly marrying the widowed Queen Gertrude (Claire O’Donovan). But Hamlet’s isolated mourning turns to bloody thoughts of vengeance when his friend Horatio (Stephen O’Leary) reveals that Old Hamlet’s ghost has been haunting the battlements of Elsinore, and the ghost reveals Claudius as a murderous usurper. As Hamlet feigns madness to better hatch his revenge, the guilt-ridden Claudius seeks the aid of pompous counsellor Polonius (Damien Devaney), whose children Ophelia (Clara Harte) and Laertes (Matthew O’Brien) will become tragically ensnared in the mayhem that consumes the court, as will Hamlet’s untrustworthy university friends Rosencrantz (Paul Quinn Jr) and Guildenstern (Graeme Coughlan).

All Hamlets are alike; each Claudius is Claudius in its own way. O’Keeffe has Fleming play both Claudius and Old Hamlet, using Declan Brennan’s video projection to allow a hirsute Fleming loom over proceedings while a shaven Fleming commands the stage as the surviving brother.  Fleming is inspired as an unpredictable King. Laertes almost flinches when begging permission to leave, as if Claudius might react violently. This is a man the court has yet to take the measure of, and he is given an unexpectedly hot-blooded relationship with Gertrude, as well as a jaw-dropping moment where he joins Hamlet’s laughing at his own bad pun before dispassionately punching him. Fleming’s Claudius edges close to Macbeth, possibly a good man before ambition and adulterous desire undid him. He is also surprisingly funny, many facial expressions giving a ‘Dear God, why must everything be so difficult?!’ exasperation at the courtiers he has won, culminating in a sardonic toast with the poisoned chalice.

O’Regan is a very physical Hamlet, dashing Ophelia to the ground in a rage that shocks himself, and later performing a flying leap on to Gertrude’s bed to pin her to it while he harangues her for marrying Claudius. But he also shrinks into a haunted crouch to deliver ‘To be or not to be’, as Kris Mooney’s lights dim and adopt one colour (blue, green, orange) during each soliloquy to bring us a privileged glimpse inside the mind of Hamlet or Claudius. O’Regan and O’Brien are noticeably youthful, believable as university students rather than the customary thirtysomethings. Gerard Bourke’s ingenious set design, steps leading down from a tall castle wall and a shorter glass-panelled wall, enables fluid movement between scenes, and O’Keeffe wrings some great laughs from offhand moments in the text. But where Keith Thompson chopped famous lines in his 2012 production, O’Keefe is less willing to wield scissors. Harte is a patient Ophelia, and Devaney conveys how sensible Polonius believes himself, but strict fidelity to their lines is a synecdoche of the show sacrificing pace for completeness.

This Hamlet undeniably loses momentum after the interval when it could use trimming, but its central disputants Hamlet and Claudius are given memorable life.

3.5/5

Hamlet continues its run at the Mill Theatre Dundrum until the 28th of October.

January 20, 2016

2016: Hopes

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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 14, 2016

Top Performances of 2015

As the traditional complement to the Top 10 Films list, here are the Top Performances of 2015. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as the top of the class, and the runners up being right behind them, and the also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.

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Best Supporting Actress

Kristen Stewart (Sils Maria) Who knew Stewart had it in her to stop biting her lip and actually act again? As Juliette Binoche’s foil she displayed an unsuspected flair for comedy alongside an argumentative intelligence.

Suzanne Clement (Mommy) Clement as the neighbour across the way was the heart of Xavier Dolan’s movie. She recovered from her own trauma by helping troubled Steve, and stood in for us; bearing tearful witness to events.

Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) Waterston made an unexpected breakthrough as Doc’s ex-girlfriend. She had few scenes, but the memorable mix of warmth and wisdom in the opening convincingly set Doc on his quest.

Runners Up:

Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) Davis broke out from indies with panache, grabbing a blockbuster role where she wasn’t just random NASA tech, but instead shared many archly comic moments with Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Julie Walters (Brooklyn) There was great comedy from the nightly dinner-table feuds at Mrs Kehoe’s and Walters provided most of it as the landlady with a waspish putdown for every tenant and every occasion.

Lea Seydoux (The Lobster) All the qualities attributed to her in Spectre, and entirely absent there, were on display here where she was icy cold, forceful, implacable, and without vanity as a sharp-suited rebel leader.

Also Placed:

Elizabeth Debicki (UNCLE) It was only in retrospect I realised she wasn’t actually a great villain. Debicki had used her commanding presence to temporarily conjure the impression of greatness from a threadbare part.

Chloe Grace Moretz (Sils Maria) Moretz was a hoot as a misbehaving starlet doing a play to gain prestige. She pulled off an uncanny balancing act between elements of Jennifer Lawrence and Lindsay Lohan’s personae.

Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip) Moss, as the long-suffering photographer girlfriend of novelist Philip, confidently took over the film for an unexpected segment tracing her own independent story of artistic development.

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Best Supporting Actor

Edward Norton (Birdman) Norton was transparently playing with his own persona, and having the time of his life doing it, but the hilarity of his preening self-regard was balanced by his self-awareness of his failings.

Benicio Del Toro (Sicario) Del Toro cut lines to make stoic DoD ‘adviser’ Alejandro troublingly mysterious, an inspired move as he slowly revealed himself to be a man without limits; breaking the law to do the right thing.

Colin Firth (Kingsman) Firth was effectively playing The Avengers’ Mr Steed, and clearly loving it. His A Single Man tour de force of dry heartbreak now has a stellar contrast on his show-reel: his amazing kill-crazy rampage.

Ewan McGregor (Son of a Gun) McGregor rediscovered his charisma as an armed robber in a post-Moulin Rouge! best. Charming, but ruthless on a dime, he combined both qualities in a deliriously jump-started interrogation.

Runners Up:

Jeff Daniels (The Martian, Steve Jobs) Daniels’ Newsroom-based resurgence saw him verbally duel with Sean Bean and Michael Fassbender with much gravitas, but he also displayed his considerable comic abilities in both roles.

Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Sicario) Brolin played law-men fond of crossing the line, but Graver’s dirty warrior sought cynical order rather than law-abiding chaos, while Bigfoot suffered from incommunicable psychic pain.

Benedict Wong (The Martian) Wong was wonderful as Bruce, the ever-harried Jet Propulsion Lab director given impossible deadlines and tasks; his hang-dog expression always one step away from total defeat.

Michael Pena (Ant-Man) Ant-Man sans Edgar Wright’s visual panache plodded like hell for the first act and a half, save his showpiece narration, but Pena’s hysterically distracted inept nice guy criminal kept it going.

Also Placed:

Sean Harris (MI5, Macbeth) The wiry, soft-spoken Harris was scary in MI5 by virtue of his villain’s cunning and utter indifference to casualties, and, as Macduff, he set about revenge with an unnerving feel of unfussy control.

Jonathan Pryce (Listen Up Philip) Pryce let rip as the elder statesman novelist: self-preening, condescending, and supportive to his protégé; hiding his guilt behind anger to his daughter; and denying to himself his own sadness.

Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs) Rogen’s shambling, slightly bewildered Steve Wozniak was a man on a mission, and always bound to fail, but his live-action Fozzie Bear helped humanise Fassbender’s Jobs tremendously.

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Best Actress

Emily Blunt (Sicario) Blunt is assured as an FBI ‘thumper’ who joins a taskforce to hurt drug cartels. Mission-creep gives her doubts, but she’s too dogged for her own good, staying to find the task-force’s true purpose, becoming a Creon to Del Toro’s Antigone – devotion to the law is the right thing.

Rooney Mara (Carol) Mara is terrific as the ingénue who is seduced by Carol and her high society, but has both cruelly taken away from her, and then sets about making her own way in the world. Rooney uses the most subtle facial expressions to chart her transformation from ingénue to equal.

Greta Gerwig (Mistress America) Gerwig shines as the somewhat ridiculous, casually abrasive Brooke, who stumbles through life from one disaster to the next with little self-pity and can charm and/or guilt-trip people into bailing out her last/buying into her next madcap venture.

Lola Kirke (Mistress America) Kirke impressively held her own against Gerwig as the perceptive, quiet Tracy; an aspiring writer who got carried away by Brooke’s mad enthusiasm, but never quite lost sight of the ridiculousness of her venture; and played disappointment exceptionally well.

Runners Up:

Cate Blanchett (Carol) Blanchett was rather good as the socialite whose charming facade masks despair, exhaustion, desire, and a recklessness that at times comes very close to making her dangerous to herself and others. But Carol’s fiery decision to be herself gave her less a meaty arc than Mara.

Rebecca Ferguson (MI5) Was Ilsa Faust a properly defined femme fatale or not? Does it matter when Ferguson gave a performance of such rare mystery and ambiguity? In never quite being able to count on her there was a mix of Han Solo roguery with a more enigmatic quality; even after all explanations.

Emma Stone (Irrational Man, Birdman) Stone delivered an amazing rant in Birdman as well as sparking off Edward Norton, and then displayed her full range with a quiet performance as a student enamoured with her professor in Irrational Man; articulating outraged conscience with great sincerity.

Also Placed:

Juliette Binoche (Sils Maria) Binoche was fully committed to her role as an actress over-analysing to death taking the other part in a two-hander play that made her, and her failed attempts to keep a straight face and seriously engage with  her while she PA defended comic-book movies was a particular joy.

Maika Monroe (It Follows) Monroe gave a strong performance, especially in playing early scenes with a dreamy quality which allowed an ambiguity later about her character hallucinating as PTSD before it became clear ‘It’ was very real and needed a Ripey response Monroe was well capable of giving.

 Steve-Jobs

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, Steve Jobs) Fassbender’s low-key delivery gave us a weary warrior who lost his mind from one damn killing too many, while his irrepressible warmth allowed Jobs say horrible things but remain charismatic till the belated quasi-apology “I’m poorly made.”

Michael Keaton (Birdman) Keaton made a spectacular leading man comeback with a transparent riff on his own persona. His comic timing was superb, his lack of vanity Oscar-worthy (cough), and he outdid Edward Norton (Greatest Actor of His Generation TM) in artistic and emotional angst.

David Oyewelo (Selma) Oyelowo gave a fiery performance as MLK, whipping up a mass demonstration for a Voting Rights Act. He oozed charisma in three speeches, but was extremely vulnerable in King’s guilt and self-doubt over deaths caused by his rhetoric and leadership, and shame at his infidelities.

Matt Damon (The Martian) Damon’s best studio lead since The Adjustment Bureau was powered by Drew Goddard’s hilarious screenplay. As a one-man show on Mars his sequences were a never-ending vlog of riffs and one-liners, and Damon delivered with immense charm and comic timing.

Runners Up:

Jason Schwartzman (Listen Up Philip) Schwartzman was on familiar Bored to Death turf but he made Philip intriguing. A hugely narcissistic novelist, lacking in empathy, and casually abrasive, but also talented, capable of being hurt to a devastating degree, and perhaps too emotionally guarded because of that.

Keanu Reeves (John Wick) Keanu made one hell of a comeback as a civilised hit-man universally beloved in the hit-community, larger underworld, and the small town he retired to. Keanu’s stunt-work was an endearing mix of fluency and occasional rustiness, and he made us love Wick too.

Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice, Irrational Man) Phoenix shambled endearingly as the perma-stoned PI straight man to a merry-go-round of lunatics, while his self-loathing philosophy professor embracing Dostoyevskyean freedom saw him deliver a truly amazing expression: guilt, fear, relief, and panic.

Also Placed:

Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) A Pacino quality came off Isaac’s performance as oil entrepreneur Abel Morales. Early, subtle Pacino. Abel would not be bullied, would not break the law, and would not accept dirty deeds on his behalf. Isaac played this principled soul with a quiet, dignified stillness.

Tom Cruise (MI5) His implausible early escape up a pole got a few laughs at my screening. I believed Cruise could do it, he’s a fitness nut. Also in other ways, but plane stunt nuts is good; and there’s a self-deprecating quality to Cruise, absent from his 90s heyday, that makes him very winning.

October 4, 2015

Macbeth

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are Scotland’s most terrifying power couple in director Justin Kurzel’s impressively realised version of The Scottish Play.

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Civil War rages in Scotland. King Duncan (David Thewlis) is kept on the throne by the bloodthirsty valour of the Thane of Glamis, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender). But when three witches prophesy that Macbeth shall be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland hereafter fatal ambition seizes the mind of both his wife (Marion Cotillard) and he. Obstacles in his path are Duncan, and his son Malcolm (Jack Reynor); and obstacles to security as King are friend Banquo (Paddy Considine), and his son Fleance. And with a mind full of scorpions, morality and sanity soon go by the wayside for Macbeth…

Kurzel cuts the comic relief Porter scene. This is not that kind of Macbeth. This is a grimy, gory, brutal production of Shakespeare’s text. Kurzel’s film goes out of its way to make what Shakespeare had made difficult to watch (the slaughter of Lady Macduff and her household) almost unbearable. No Orson Welles castle for Macbeth here, home consists of simple wooden houses, tents, and combinations of both. Rain, mud, and blood are everywhere; men are scarred from battle, women are scarred from losing child after child. It’s a theatrical vision which becomes hallucinatory and cinematic by its fiery finale.

This was always going to be an interesting film, but the combination of Fassbender, Cotillard, and Kurzel is probably the finest screen Macbeth yet.

5/5

April 8, 2015

The Man in Two Pieces: Interview with Gerard Adlum

 

The Man in Two Pieces, a new play starring Stephen Brennan and Gerard Adlum, premieres in Theatre Upstairs this week. It marks the beginning of a year-long residency in Theatre Upstairs for rising company Fast Intent (Nessa Matthews, Sarah Finlay, Gerard Adlum). I talked to actor and playwright Gerard Adlum ahead of his work’s debut.

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Here’s a taster of the full interview which will shortly appear on HeadStuff.org:

Q: The Man in Two Pieces premieres Tuesday April 7th in Theatre Upstairs. How would you describe your play about a young boy’s experiences with a ramshackle vaudeville troupe in 1920s Ireland?

A: I think it’s bittersweet, elegiac, a love-song to a lost way of life. Like The Boy in the play, the audience should get caught up in this whirlwind of a show.

It appeals, I hope, to the romantic inside all of us. Plus, it’s got a jittery strongman and a very serious hypnotist.

Q: Fast Intent take their name from King Lear’s first speech, their debut show was Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes, and since then they’ve performed Macbeth and a Pinter double bill. Are Shakespeare and Pinter then the greatest theatrical influences, or are there other playwrights (or indeed directors) that are equally important: both to you as a playwright, and to the other members of the company?

A: Those two writers are, for me and most people really, about as good as it gets. There’s not a day goes by that one of their lines doesn’t pop into my head. I think all of us in the company hold them in high regard. There’s nothing worse, as an actor or director, than working with a poor script. You’re hamstrung from the beginning. You end up trying to hide the play, not celebrate it. Fast Intent like words. Pictures are important too, yes. But it begins with the written word.

Q: Fast Intent, apart from a Culture Night series of historical monologues in Dublin Castle, haven’t tackled Irish subjects. Was it important to begin the residency in Theatre Upstairs with a play set in Ireland?

A: It’s not something we were particularly conscious of at all. At the end of 2014 we did discuss certain themes we’d maybe like to explore during the residency, the notion of “Irishness” was one of them. Some of the others were “misfits and outsiders” and “togetherness”. This play does address all of that.

The Man in Two Pieces is now running at Theatre Upstairs.

March 28, 2015

Fast Intent present The Man in Two Pieces

Fast Intent are Theatre Upstairs’ Company in Residence 2015, and are about to begin their tenure with an original work, The Man in Two Pieces.

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“Life is tough, lad, rotten tough, and when you get to my age you’ll see there’s no remedy to it, ‘cept magic” – Kerrigan.

The Man in Two Pieces is set in Ireland in 1921. After midnight Kerrigan’s Vaudeville Troupe rolls to a halt on the outskirts of a country town that could just as well be any country town. The Adonis unloads boxes, The Great Gustavo tries to look busy, and Kerrigan counts the takings from the night. Amidst this winding down a young boy sleepily pokes his head out from the back of the wagon and thinks ‘this must be the place’. A two-hander starring Gerard Adlum as The Boy and Stephen Brennan as Kerrigan, this is described as a play about the dreams that sustains us, the delusions that destroy us, and the magic that binds us together.

This is the first appearance in Theatre Upstairs by Stephen Brennan, a commanding presence at the Gate Theatre (The Real Thing, Hay Fever) and elsewhere (Phaedra), and is the first original play by Gerard Adlum, who has run the Theatre Upstairs’ Readers Group for several years. Some of Fast Intent’s previous productions in Smock Alley and Dublin Castle (Macbeth, Dracula) have been reviewed on this blog. The members of Fast Intent were later heavily involved in Dublin Fringe Festival-nominated premiere How to Build Your First Robot; with Gerard Adlum starring, Sarah Finlay directing, and Nessa Matthews creating the soundscape. Flying under their own banner again The Man in Two Pieces is directed by Sarah Finlay, with set design by Rebekka Duffy, sound design by Paul Farrell, visual design by Ste Murray, and original songs by Gerard Adlum & Nessa Matthews.

The Man in Two Pieces runs in Theatre Upstairs from 7 April to 18 April, and marks the beginning of Theatre Upstairs’ shift from lunchtime to evening performances. Show times are 7.00pm Tuesday-Saturday with 1.00pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are 10e/8e concession, with light lunch included at matinee performances. Any tickets booked before midnight tonight receive an early bird 20% discount, and there is an opening offer of 7.50e for all tickets on the opening night. You can book at http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/the-man-in-two-pieces or 0857727375.

 

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