Talking Movies

May 18, 2015

Michael Shannon & Bodies That Can Never Tire

 

Brace yourselves! Michael Shannon has been confirmed to attend International Literature Festival Dublin on Friday 22nd May to participate in Bodies That Can Never Tire, the Festival’s celebration of William Butler Yeats’ 150th Birthday.

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“That he follow with desire/Bodies that can never tire”

In WB Yeats’ great play, An Baile’s Strand, Cuchulainn is asked to take an oath to defend the country. Against his will he agrees and sings the oath, including the lines above. Being half man, half god, Cuchulainn himself is a ‘body that can never tire’, but in these lines Yeats focuses on the artist’s inner drive to satisfy dreams, visions and supernatural impulses. These ‘bodies that can never tire’ are different for everybody, and fuel ambition, obsession, and revolution. They are central to artistic creation, and the stuff of ‘the foul rag and bone shop of the heart’.

A unique celebration of the legacy of Ireland’s great national poet, Bodies That Can Never Tire will enchant in the beautiful surroundings of the historic Smock Alley Theatre at 6pm on Friday 22nd May, with proceeds from the event going to Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

A specially commissioned piece interwoven with music, poetry, and spoken word, Bodies That Can Never Tire will showcase Irish actors Clark Middleton (Birdman), Sean Doyle (Fair City), Aoife Duffin (What Richard Did), Aoibhin Garrihy (The Fall), Lorcan Cranitch (King Lear, The House), and Maeve Fitzgerald (Gate’s Pride & Prejudice). Spoken word contributions will come from Katie Donovan (Rootling: New & Selected Poems), Deirdre Kinahan (Spinning), Patrick McCabe (The Butcher Boy), with music from composer Tom Lane (HARP | a river cantata), Songs in the Key of D choir, folk trio The Evertides, and hip hop artist Lethal Dialect.

And of course the star attraction is the spoken word contribution of Michael Shannon, a man whose name has graced the top of the best acting awards lists hereabouts numerous times in the last few years. Shannon is probably best known for his turn as General Zod in Man of Steel, and his driven government agent in Boardwalk Empire. But his most productive creative partnership has likely been with writer/director Jeff Nichols on Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud. Shannon has done acclaimed theatre work as well as explode off the big screen with snarling charisma, so the chance to see him in the flesh on the Dublin stage is a rare one and to be grasped with both hands.

Booking

Tickets to all events are available online via www.ilfdublin.com

Box Office Filmbase, Curved St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 (11am-6pm Mon-Sat, 12-5pm Sun)

T: +353 (0) 1 687 7977

E: boxoffice@ilfdublin.com

International Literature Festival Dublin features over 90 events in 19 venues over 9 days. Now in its 17th year the Festival has grown to become one of the most prestigious events in Ireland’s literary calendar. This year attendees include Irvine Welsh, Jon Ronson, Paul Muldoon, Anne Enright, Alexander McCall Smith, Anne Applebaum, Elif Shafak and Oliver Jeffers.

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July 18, 2013

The Frozen Ground

Nicolas Cage’s Alaskan state trooper hunts down John Cusack’s sadistic serial killer in a dramatisation of the real-life Robert Hansen case in early 1980s Alaska.

IMG_2828.CR2Teenage prostitute Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) is found by police officers in an Alaskan motel room; handcuffed, badly beaten, and distraught. She claims she was raped by pillar of the community Robert Hansen (John Cusack), so the brass instantly dismiss her accusations. However, after the discovery of a dead girl in the Alaskan wilds, state trooper Sgt. Jack Halcome (Nicolas Cage) reopens Cindy’s case as he suspects that there is a serial killer targeting young prostitutes like her, and that she is the one that got away… But keeping Cindy safe while he builds a case against Hansen without enraging the local PD is complicated for Halcome both by Cindy’s distrust and her pimp (50 Cent) forcing her to work the streets; because Hansen is prowling those sidewalks eager to find the loose end that could unravel his secret life.

This is the second film in as many months about a family man who secretly mass murdered his way thru the 1970s and 1980s, but this is not The Iceman. Hansen dominates his religious wife Fran (Katherine LaNasa) but keeps his true darkness hidden, and we never get any real sense of his inner life. By focusing on the procedural element of Halcome’s investigation Antipodean writer/director Scott Walker produces a cold detachment which feels oddly like Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal TV show. Patrick Murguia’s murky handheld camerawork is of course radically different, but at times you can feel you’re watching a basic cable version of Criminal Minds; a feeling reinforced when overly cautious DA (Kurt Fuller) rubbishes the report by one of the FBI’s new ‘profilers’. And that’s before noticing the supporting TV faces: Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Michael McGrady (Hawaii Five-O), Brad William Henke (LOST).

At some point Hudgens will stop trying to shock us to shed her Disney image, and we’ll finally be able to judge if she can actually act. But that point is still in the future. Her (flagged as ‘all-the-way’) drugged-up striptease here is mightily uncomfortable, as is the amount of offhand female nudity given that the film ends with a montage of the victims to whom the film is dedicated; mostly sex-workers, which renders such gratuitousness earlier tacky at best. Indeed it’s quite shocking how McGrady’s vice detective tolerates public prostitution, even down to negotiating with the Mob over questioning their hookers who work off-street, so long as things are kept reasonably under control. Differently shocking is Radha Mitchell’s thankless role as Mrs Halcome, who explicitly prioritises keeping one distressed hooker out of her house over catching a prolific murderer. Such considerations only come to mind because the sadism of Hansen is presented to us in vignettes played merely for tension rather than character analysis.

Walker stages a tense chase finale, and a nice tactical gambit from Halcome’s boss (Kevin Dunn), but his film while satisfying lacks true insight.

3/5

June 12, 2013

Snyder’s Superman

I’ve written two pieces about Zack Snyder and one about re-booting the Superman franchise, so here’s my clever ploy to avoid repeating myself by this time writing a blog about Zack Snyder’s re-booting of Superman.

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Man of Steel hits cinemas this Friday. The promotional push has come oddly late, here at any rate, with nary a poster or TV spot visible until June 3rd for a movie out June 14th. But Warner Bros has obvious confidence in this project, muttering as they are of their expectations that it will break the $1 billion dollar mark, so it’s obviously a considered choice. But have Zack Snyder’s choices as the rebooting director been equally considered? It’s long been my contention that limits are good, that Tarantino’s CSI: LV special ‘Grave Danger’ is better than Death Proof and Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2 because he had to creatively respond to artistic limitations rather than engage in his usual self-indulgence. Inglourious Basterds likewise needed to be a hit with some urgency so he had to rein himself in from his original grandiose vision. You could even speculate, as I have, that, given a small budget Richard Kelly’s imagination is focused onto small-scale scenarios which hum with wit and heart, but that given a large budget his vision becomes hopelessly diffuse as it expands over ever more elaborate conspiracies; always involving water, time-travel or aliens. I say this because I think that, unlike the unloved Sucker-Punch which was co-written and directed by Snyder as an R movie and then edited into a PG-13 after the shoot, receiving Goyer’s PG-13 Man of Steel script and bringing his flourishes to bear is the best thing that could happen to him creatively.

Snyder has cast intriguingly and well. Laurence Fishburne has the natural authority you want from a Perry White, Amy Adams has the comic timing and also the abrasiveness to be Lois Lane, and the double-act of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents looks very promising. Russell Crowe as Jor-El looks like a solid choice, although it depends largely on the levels of pompousness depicted on Krypton – which we’re promised will be a caped society, whatever that means, perhaps Gerard Butler’s Sparta. By far the best choice is Michael Shannon as General Zod, a move every bit as bizarre as Scarecrow and French Connection star Gene Hackman putting aside grittiness and realism to don a comedy wig as Lex Luthor in 1978. Shannon, from the latest trailer, is bringing the baffled questioning tone of his Revolutionary Road madman as well as the customary menacing fury of Boardwalk Empire and The Iceman. Indeed the only obvious dud in the casting is picking Henry Cavill as Superman, so, only mildly important then… Cavill is physically perfect for the part, but being built like Superman is only half the task, you need the comic timing to be Clark too. Brandon Routh had the physique for Superman, but his Clark wasn’t very good, and the film suffered as a result. Cavill abundantly does not have great comic timing, which makes the promises from Snyder and Goyer that this Clark is an interpretation we’ve never seen before a worrying admission/pre-emption of comic timing failure.

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And comedy is the big worry when it comes to Man of Steel. The teaser trailer which made it look like Clark was going to spend the whole film moping around the Pacific Northwest ruing the Discovery Channel’s decision to once again not pick his crew to feature on the next season of Deadliest Catch started the concerns. The next trailer deepened those concern, eschewing as it did super-action and seeming to promise a deeply sombre Superman which would resemble nothing else so much as a dramatisation of Seth Cohen’s essay on the loneliness of being Superman which moved his teacher to tears… Finally we got a trailer that softened the pomposity of grand thematic statements about sacrifice, leadership, moral examples by showing us some super-action, but sadly said super-action looked as if it was directed by Michael Bay in blacks, blues, greys and red with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski on hand with his customary supernova to backlight the action. It also seemed to suggest this interpretation’s Lois might play like the reporter in Mr Deeds Goes to Town, debunking the small-town hero under the guise of romance and then feeling guilty. Except Goyer can’t write Capra. Indeed, under his own steam he’s given us Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield and Jumper, while the Brothers Nolan, without him, have penned Memento, The Prestige and Inception. You feel sure the Nolans work hard to pen gags, but Superman cinematically needs some good gags or it will implode.

And then there’s the CGI… Brandishing the ‘Produced by Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight trilogy’ on your promotional material only goes so far. Nolan shoots on film, on location and in meticulously dressed sound-stages, and with largely practical effects – oftentimes where anybody else would just use ghastly CGI – rendered with a very precise eye for detail by cinematographer Wally Pfister. Snyder really … doesn’t. Zod’s CGI armour and awful looking spaceship stood out for me like a sore thumb, because, along with the CGI cape for Superman, they’re the sort of bizarre decisions that could really blight a movie. Richard Donner said his Superman aimed at not at reality but at verisimilitude, but it appears Snyder has with customary abandon decided to abandon verisimilitude and go for total fantasy. Partly this is because of the times we live in, but also partly because Snyder is not particularly attached to reality at the best of times. But no matter how sombre the trailers make it look, no matter how emotionally devastating the handling of Clark’s pivotal relationships are, and no matter how thrilling it is too see a Superman Begins in which his morality is in formation – and close to Hancock than himself as a result – the scripting by David S Goyer won’t matter a damn if you just tune out when you notice that, like certain action sequences in the blighted Star Wars prequels, not one thing onscreen is actually real. And Sucker-Punch does not inspire confidence there…

So, there you go. This Man of Steel has a strong chance of crash-landing, but it could soar – let’s hope…

February 6, 2013

2013: Hopes

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Stoker

March sees the acclaimed South Korean director and Tarantino favourite Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy, Thirst) make his enigmatic English language debut with a movie scripted by the unlikely personage of Prison Break star Wentworth Miller. Riffing on Hitchock’s 1943 classic Shadow of a Doubt and the Southern Gothic literary tradition this slow-burning psychological horror sees Mia Wasikowska’s unhealthy affection for her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) gradually transform into a possibly equally unhealthy suspicion to the point of madness when he comes to live with her recently widowed mother Nicole Kidman. Park has a wonderful eye for startling compositions and a willingness to challenge his audience with his pacing so this intrigues.

 

Mud

April sees the great Michael Shannon reunite with his regular collaborator the singular writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories) but this time Matthew McConaughey is the focus as his roguish fugitive is helped evade bounty hunters and reunite with his lover Reese Witherspoon by two innocent teenage boys. Sam Shepard and Sarah Paulson round out the impressive cast in an Arkansas-set tale that’s been likened in feel to Huckleberry Finn. Nichols has adopted a more mobile style of directing for this endearing drama, written especially for McConaughey after Lone Star, which is also a world away in tone from the intensity and ambiguity of his apocalyptic drama Take Shelter.

 

The Iceman

Michael Shannon takes centre stage though as a notorious Mob hit-man Richard Kuklinski in this dark drama. Winona Ryder is his wife Deborah, who has no idea that this warm-hearted family man is also a cold-blooded contract killer with a huge and lengthening roll-call of victims. Director Ariel Vroman has rounded up an impressive supporting cast that includes Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, James Franco and Robert Davi. But the real draw here is, as ever, Shannon. He has a remarkable ability to project menace from a still centre as you sense bubbling fury beneath his calm face, and the ambiguities of this role recall his tour-de-force in Take Shelter.

 

Iron Man 3

April 26th sees the return of the only indispensable Marvel Studios property. Director Shane Black provided Robert Downey Jr with the definitive outing of his fast-talking ironist persona in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang so it’s a mouth-watering prospect to see Downey Jr again delivering Black dialogue. But… the pall of The Avengers hangs over this movie, which we’re promised sees Tony Stark suffering PTSD, before being attacked by Ben Kinsley’s not racist at all (now) super-villain The Mandarin. Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce’s rival scientists join regulars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau in the cast but can Downey Jr and Black really do sombre? And should they try?

 

Star Trek: Into Darkness

In 2009 I griped about both the intellectual con-job involved in the in-camera ret-conning plot and the poor villain of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek debut, but both gripes are now redundant. Rumours of Klingons conflict with Benedict Cumberbatch being Khan, but who cares? Cumberbatch is a genius terrorist destroying Starfleet from within and the crew of the USS Enterprise must travel into a warzone to stop him. May 17th should see another exuberant romp underscored with much seriousness as we fret about the fate of Zachary Quinto’s Spock. The only fly in the ointment is Peter Weller joining the cast. Have you seen 24: Day 5? Shudder.

 

The Wolverine

Yes, the first Wolverine movie in 2009 resembled a bad episode of Smallville at times, but it still had some good elements that could profitably be built on. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) should bring more intelligence to proceedings and given Mark Millar’s new comics consultant role at Fox we can hope that the script is slightly more together as well. Plus this one’s got ninjas. And everything’s better with ninjas. And not just any old ninjas either, Will Yun Lee appears as the Silver Samurai. And Famke Janssen returns as Jean Grey! July 26th might see this franchise renew itself as effectively as its laconic super-healing hero.

 

The Dallas Buyers’ Club

Quebecois writer/director Jean-Marc Vallee follows his unsettling and emotional Cafe de Flore with a 1980s set film about the real life AIDS victim Ron Woodroof. A womanising homophobic Texan, he defied not just his doctors, but his own prejudices and the federal government to smuggle in from Mexico alternative drug treatments for himself and his fellow HIV+ victims. It stars, wait for it, Matthew McConaughey; who’s this year confirming his rebirth as a serious actor; with Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner. Vallee’s last Anglophone movie, Young Victoria, was essentially a cinematic curtsy by scriptwriter Julian Fellowes to the Famine Queen, so let’s hope this receives Vallee’s magic.

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Only God Forgives

Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn and his Drive leading man Ryan Gosling reunite for another unhinged movie. I’m not kidding, Gosling said Refn’s script was the strangest thing he’d ever read. Shot on location in Bangkok, Gosling plays Julian, an Englishman running a boxing club as a front for his family’s drug-smuggling. Kristin Scott Thomas is his terrifying mother Jenna who instructs him to hunt down and kill the man who killed his brother. Refn has described this as a Western that takes place in the East, and a fairytale with Gosling as a cowboy. So expect virtuosity in visuals, sound, acting, oh, and some truly horrendous violence.

 

Carrie

Hallowe’en sees Stop-Loss director Kimberly Pierce’s delayed remake of Brian De Palma’s classic horror based on Stephen King’s hit debut novel. There are good and bad elements at work here that make this a toss-up between good and disaster. Chloe Moretz is the victimised teenager, Julianne Moore her crazy mother, Judy Greer the nice teacher, and Youth in Revolt’s Portia Doubleday the alpha mean girl. That’s a fine cast under a talented director. But, this has been mysteriously delayed, it’s been written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa who scripted the misfiring Spider-Man musical, and he’s promised to stick closer to the novel King insisted De Palma had improved on with his film.

 

Frank

Lenny Abrahamson is the opposite of a Talking Movies favourite, but he’s teamed up with the favourite di tutti favourites Michael Fassbender. Thankfully Abrahamson’s miserabilist tendencies and agonising inertness will perforce be put to one side for a rock-star comedy co-written by journalist Jon Ronson, a man with a verified eye for the absurd having written The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. The original script loosely based on a cult English comic musician follows wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins a pop band led by enigmatic Frank (Fassbender) and his scary girlfriend Maggie Gyllenhaal.

 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

On November 22nd the all-conquering Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen for the second of four films adapted from Suzanne Collins’ best-selling YA trilogy. Having won the Hunger Games despite her seditious gestures Katniss finds herself thrown back into the fray as the 75th Hunger Games – the Quarter Quells – introduce new allies and enemies; including showy turns from Jena Malone and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson all return but, more importantly Gary Ross doesn’t; having been replaced in the director’s chair by Francis Lawrence who will presumably introduce a more considered visual style, more layered villains, and better action.

 

Twelve Years a Slave

Acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s first movie without Michael Fassbender in the lead role sees him instead working with Red Tails screenwriter John Ridley to adapt the true story of a free black man from the North who was kidnapped and forced into Slavery in the Antebellum South. The peerless Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as the indomitable hero Solomon Northrup. McQueen has rounded up an incredible supporting cast (Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Fassbender, Ruth Negga, Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, Scott McNairy, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch) but this film will undoubtedly belong to Ejiofor and McQueen’s visuals which may well become less abstract in dealing with this topic.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Yes, Peter Jackson, deserved everything he got at Christmas: to wit, being kicked like a dog with mange. But, even if the opportunistic and very ill-advised decision to adapt one short novel into three epic films represented the darkest hour for decent storytelling in the eternal battle between art and commerce, at least we won’t have to sit thru an hour of filler introducing dwarves we couldn’t care less about before the action starts with this second instalment. And we get to hear Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman together again! Freeman and Ian McKellen were reliably fantastic, let’s just hope this next film matches them.

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