Talking Movies

March 22, 2020

At least we still have… : Part XI

The eleventh in an occasional series in which I try to cheer myself up by remembering what still exists in the world and cannot ever be taken capriciously away.

1980s flashback flashback

Which is to say that I was surprised to see this song appear on MTV Classic in a countdown of 1980s film hits, until I saw River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton appear beside an aged Ben E King in the video. Making this a flashback to the 1980s that was itself a flashback 25 years to when Ben E King as a young man had a worldwide smash with this in 1961.

Social Distancing

I have been watching rather a lot of MTV Classic in its pop-up MTV 80s guise recently. For obvious reasons. And I realised that the oxymoronic call for us all to come together by staying apart could almost see in the national psyche/soundtrack Ben E King’s song of love and solidarity be abruptly followed by The Police urging you to back up the minimum 3 feet for the love of God.

Status Red

And if we are putting together a playlist for these strange times then this would be the fitting final entry. The Specials weren’t actually singing about streets deserted because of fear of the coronavirus but…

December 22, 2019

From the Archives: Bee Movie

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This is a bit of a conundrum to review. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good movie that features some hilarious gags. It is certainly several leagues above Dreamworks’ previous animated feature this year, the dire Shrek the Third. Jerry Seinfeld, who finally stopped doing stand-up to make this film, has really thought out the internal logic for his epic about bee society. The depiction of the worker bees that leave the hive to collect pollen is hilarious as they’re all jocks in a Top Gun style fighter squadron valorised by the rest of the hive. The sequence where Barry B Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) finally achieves his dream and flies with them on a sortie through the city is genuinely exciting. The problem is that while there are a number of great gags which are truly of the calibre you expect from a Seinfeld script the movie overall feels somewhat flat. This oddly deflating vibe is exemplified by the use of Chris Rock, who is hilarious but appears in just three scenes as the voice of a mosquito.

Despite the spirited protestations of Dreamworks Animation supremo Jeffrey Katzenberg there is no doubt that this film is less in thrall to celebrities than previous Dreamworks fiascos like Shark Tale. The presence of Patrick Warburton, who voices ultraviolent bodyguard Brock Samson in cult animated show The Venture Brothers, is testament to that. I have no idea what Warburton looks like, he’s a voice actor, and he’s hilarious as Ken, Vanessa’s jock boyfriend who has absurd self-confidence. In Shark Tale celebrities whose voices aren’t particularly memorable were made obvious by making all the anthropomorphic fish look exactly like the person voicing them. The characters were then made exactly like the screen persona of these stars. Which it must be admitted is about as far removed from the idea of an actor bending themselves into a role as is possible to imagine. Here Seinfeld is recognisable as a bee but no one else really is bar real human characters like Ray Liotta and Sting (both mocking themselves with gusto) and a gag about B Larry King.

The plot is very similar to Antz with an extremely neurotic Jewish insect (seriously, the amount of Jewish references here would appear excessive in a Woody Allen film) agonising over his life and his attempts to become an individualist in a conformist society. This is done in typically melodramatic Hollywood fashion by suing humans for stealing honey. The bees are helped by Renee Zellweger’s kind-hearted florist Vanessa for this showdown which should theoretically enable Barry’s hive to have more time for leisure and a life outside of work. But that’s not the end of the story. Seinfeld cleverly subverts the clichés established by Dreamworks’ ‘subversive’ films but it still doesn’t make this essential viewing.

3/5

October 10, 2015

Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa premiered at Dublin Theatre Festival 25 years ago, but this anniversary production doubles as a posthumous tribute to its author Brian Friel.

Dancing at Lughnasa - credit Chris Heaney 800x400

The adult Michael (Charlie Bonner) narrates the summer of 1936 when he was 7 years old. The illegitimate son of the youngest daughter Chrissie (Vanessa Emme), he was doted on by her four sisters: messer Maggie (Cara Kelly), simple Rose (Mary Murray), quiet Agnes (Catherine Cusack), and schoolteacher Kate (Catherine McCormack). But this golden summer is the beginning of the end for the Mundy sisters, even though the return of their beloved brother Jack (Declan Conlon) after 25 years in the Ugandan Missions seems an unlikely catalyst for catastrophe. While the visit of Michael’s ne’er-do-well Welsh father Gerry Evans (Matt Tait) seems pivotal to the emotional turmoil that besets the house, it almost takes a ha’penny place in hindsight to the arrival of malfunctioning wireless Marconi; the ambassador of the industrial revolution finally reaching Ballybeg that will sweep away all.

Director Annabelle Comyn strips away the misplaced nostalgia that has gathered around Friel’s Tony-winning script; there are no fields of wheat crying out for Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ to soundtrack memories of halcyon summer here. Instead Paul O’Mahony’s domestic table, chests and stove yield seamlessly to the outside of rocks, kites and leaves strewn on the ground while looming over all is a reflective triangle with a layer of gauzy fabric dulling its accuracy. Chahine Yavroyan’s lights frequently flash accompanied by a loud pop, as in her design for Comyn’s 2014 The Vortex, to jolt us back to fuller lighting after expressive dimming during monologues or sad moments. It also emphasises these are Michael’s memories, and he mayn’t be as scrupulously accurate as he believes. Indeed his penultimate narration of doom colours the final scenes as oblivious to coming tragedy.

As my academic cohort Graham Price noted this is not a production that masks the bleakness. The dance is not a joyous climax, a moment of healing. It is an abrupt explosion of energy, that can’t overwhelm the despair; even in their dancing the sisters are alone, their movements governed by the forces that entrap them. And no dance is as revealing as Kate’s energetic but strict Irish dance-steps. McCormack’s performance recalls Cathy Belton’s affecting Judith in Friel’s Aristocrats at the Abbey last year. Kate is intelligent, and loving towards Michael, but she is buckling under the strain of holding her family together by conforming to societal norms. And her priest sibling instead of a godsend proves an albatross, having gone wildly native. A stooped, bearded Conlon is magnificent. His English initially clipped, from long usage exclusively with British imperialists. His hair wet from malarial sweats, but then smarter as he regains his vocabulary. Jack’s enthusiasm for Riyangan rituals leaves you convinced he, not the fox, sacrificed Rose’s pet rooster.

It is odd that a production that began as a celebration of a living playwright become a eulogy, but a fitting one it is.

5/5

Dancing at Lughnasa continues its run at the Gaiety Theatre until the 11th of October.

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